When Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) was a baby fish (Sloane Murray), she was not aware of very much, or not as much as she and her parents (Ty Burell and Diane Keaton) would have liked her to be, for about the only thing of use she could remember was how bad her memory was. As she would tell everyone, she suffered from short term memory loss, which worried her mother and father for they could not be sure Dory could be trusted to look after herself, no matter how often they warned her about the potential dangers out there in the water. And one day, the worst happened, and she was left without anyone to help her in the ocean, not even remembering she had parents - but then she met Marlin (Albert Brooks).
Given Finding Nemo was one of the most successful animated movies, one of the most successful movies full stop, of all time, and the thirst for sequels and reboots in the twenty-first century continued unabated, it was natural that a follow-up would be announced, not least because Ellen DeGeneres was practically making it happen through sheer force of will. When it arrived, of course it was a hit, but such was the changing landscape of how films were reacted to since 2003 when the original was released, the acclaim was by no means as universal this time around: it was too similar to the previous entry, they grumbled, it was not as funny this time around, or the sad bits simply were not prompting the tears.
It was true enough to observe Finding Dory did not stray too far from the formula that had succeeded so well in that initial instalment, but this was streets ahead of Pixar's laziest sequel Cars 2, it just wasn't as brilliantly produced as the pinnacle of animated sequels, their Toy Story 3, and seeing as how that was a very high bar to clear, then it would be ungrateful to accuse this of falling so short when what it did well it did very well. For a start, there were few cartoons as exquisitely produced as this one, its seascapes and delicately rendered characters, each full of personality, combining to craft often beautiful computer generated imagery, all variations on the colour blue offset by its contrasting hues.
The title suggested that the fish would be searching for Dory this time, and to an extent that did take up a decent stretch of the storyline, but it did not start out that way for she was struck by a memory that reminded her she should really be back with her parents. She could not recall very much about them, simply brief flashes of what they had tried to instil in her, and what was clever for those who had watched Finding Nemo a million times was how the details of her characteristics were demonstrated to be part of a genuine backstory that was presented here, thirteen years later (or a year later in terms of the movie's timeline). The fact that all this was happening to Dory without her being altogether clear on why, both the good and bad, infused the fish with the kind of depth that not every studio's animation would have bothered with.
Dory's confusion made her very endearing, though you could also understand why those around her would be frustrated when she was not privy to the same amount of information as they were, because of her poorly developed faculties and the fact that it was easy to keep things from her for her own peace of mind. So much for that: being aware that something was up but not being certain what it was could easily have been a frightening situation - see Christopher Nolan's Memento for a rundown of that - but crucially Dory had support from her loose family of friends who looked out for her. The question was, would she be able to reclaim her actual family? The memory span of a goldfish could have been a facile gag in other hands, but as in the first movie Dory's state was treated with compassion, which made it all the more touching when such a damaged or disabled character was presented as a three-dimensional person deserving of respect and care, even if she was a fish. Other themes included a scepticism on the benefits of keeping animals in captivity and that old "be all you can be, just dream" cliché, but it was that generosity that lifted this above any old run of the mill sequel. Music by Thomas Newman.