‘Finding Dory’ feels every bit as wonderful as the first

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Finding Dory (2016)

Directed by Andrew Stanton

If you ask me, Pixar outdid itself in 2003 when it released “Finding Nemo.” To this day it tops my personal list of Pixar’s best (or is it “The Incredibles”? Ughhhh so many great choices!). Thirteen years of undisputed mastery and unparalleled anticipation has led to (finally!) a sequel, “Finding Dory,” which centers on the forgetful blue tang voiced by comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. Those are some big shoes (fins?) to fill. But this is Pixar. So of course, expectations were met. And then exceeded.

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Just a year after the events of “Finding Nemo,” Dory (DeGeneres) begins having brief flashbacks of her youth. Of her parents. Anxious to capitalize on her momentary relapse of memory, Dory drags Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) to California to find her parents (wonderfully voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton). Along the way, friends old and new—like an octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill, a beluga whale voiced by Ty Burrell, and a hysterical sea lion voiced by Idris Elba—will help their family reunion become a reality…if Dory’s parents are still where she remembers them.

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For the kids, the colorful and kinetic animation—updated from 2003, but not Pixar’s finest (that definitely goes to “The Good Dinosaur,” regardless of its plot pitfalls)—provides plenty of fun and laughter. For the adults, too. But we get the bigger kicks out of the recognizable voice cast, full of comics and not comics. Elba, dipping his hooves into animation just months ago playing a muskox in “Zootopia,” and then lending his growling voice to Disney again just last month for “The Jungle Book,” here gives us plenty of knee slaps as the territorial sea lion named Fluke. “Modern Family” star Ed O’Neill makes Hank, the impersonal octopus who helps Dory navigate the California Marine Institute she makes her way to, an unforgettable character. His trademark crankiness makes me hope Hank has a prominent place in a possible threequel (“Finding Marlin”? “Finding Hank”?). And Ellen DeGeneres doesn’t miss a beat despite the decade of waiting for her ticket to be called again. Her lovable, friendly, involving voice is what got “Finding Dory” made in the first place.

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Compared to “Finding Nemo”—and I hate that it has to be held to such a high standard—“Finding Dory” is slower to find itself. It pulls a little too much from its predecessor (can you blame it, when it had such incredible material to work with?). But in time, as “Dory” just keeps swimming, swimming, swimming, its message becomes clearer. And uniquely its own. And in theaters, especially in the magical glow of 3D, despite being a very tiny step backward, “Finding Dory” feels every bit as wonderful and enjoyable as the first. It finds a rightful spot amongst Pixar’s best.

8.5/10

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