This review was originally published in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad
One of the best things about breakout supporting characters is that the fandom surrounding them comes honestly. Scene-stealers aren't handed their movies, but earn them. So it went with Dory, Ellen DeGeneres's forgetful blue tang who swam circles around every other character in Finding Nemo (2003), figuratively speaking, though she did sometimes swim in actual circles since she couldn't remember where she was going.
Thirteen years later, though Finding Dory takes place just after Finding Nemo ends, we're swimming in circles again with Dory, via a suspiciously similar movie. Let us count the ways...
1. It begins with a loving parent fish worrying about the safety of their baby fish with a problem (last time it was Marlin's deformed fin, this time it's Dory's memory problems via baby Dory in flashback).
2. We have to cross the ocean because of the lost baby fish (that's Dory so we're technically Finding Dory's Parents this time around when she suddenly remembers them as a full grown fish.)
3. Our hero ends up trapped in an aquarium and has to hatch an elaborate escape plan.
4. Surfer turtles and other wacky sea creatures with big personalities show up in every other scene.
5. Dory speaking whale surprises other fish.
We could be at this all day but why nitpick?
While it's true that Pixar has abandoned its throne as the most dependably original and perfect movie studio (with the brilliant Inside Out the exception to the new reality), at least they're regurgitating well. Take, for example, those very funny popular seagulls from the first movie who only cried "Mine! Mine! Mine!" (True story confession: they made T-shirts -- I bought one.) This time that possessive joke gets a sneaky encore via bantering sea lions (Idris Elba & Dominic West, reunited after The Wire) claiming total dominion over particular rocks to sunbathe on. They don't have a catch phrase but the joke is inherently the same and even funnier.
Dory's perfect side dish from Nemo being served up as the entree for her own film, presents some problems. DeGeneres isn't as funny this time since she's busy propping up the soggy demands of the plot and themes (self-reliance, familial love, etcetera). And since she takes Nemo & Marlin with her we have essentially three "straight men" in comedy terms rather than one. There's a lot of slack to be picked up to keep it funny. Mostly Pixar manages well especially when it comes to a superbly animated Octopus and two whales with self-esteem problems (they're all voiced by sitcom stars: Ed O'Neill, Kaitlin Olsson, and Ty Burrell).
I regret to inform that the internet's obsession with a lesbian couple appearing in Finding Dory is much ado about literally nothing. This only goes to show how thirsty we all still are for LGBT inclusion in mainstream film -- even Disney films despite their otherwise gay friendly status as a company. Since we're in a franchise that argues for chosen/created families (Dory+ Marlin & Nemo) and regularly extolls the virtues of creatures of totally different kinds living in harmony and friendship, it's a shame that LGBT inclusion has to be forcibly imagined rather than delivered in this heternormative sequel that's all about a mom & dad and their cute little baby.
But all is not exactly lost on the queer pleasure front. Finding Dory's greatest gift to the LGBT community is not some random lesbian couple you'd have to freeze frame to see, but something more subtle and much much funnier. Finding Dory is really just Finding Nemo Redux (it's no Zootopia if you've been playing along this year) but within its casual recycling we get at least one genius new joke. Once the fish reach their destination (not too long into the film) Finding Dory launches a delicious recurring comic monument to butch queen Sigourney Weaver herself, the Myth if not the Woman. She's the voice of the marine institute where most of the film's silly adventure takes place. It's a joke that just keeps on delivering, not unlike Pixar itself.
Oscar Chances: Very good as it's likely to be beloved by fans and a massive success at the box office. Finding Nemo was nominated for four Oscars (Sound Editing, Screenplay, Animated Feature, Score) winning for Best Animated Feature. Though that much success seems unlikely (animated films aren't what they used to be in terms of Oscar nods) it's looking at a near certain nomination. Still, Zootopia is better and we haven't even seen all the competition yet, so we hope it's not already on course to win the Oscar.