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Ocean Pain: On “Finding Dory”

All hail Pixar’s latest film, the dark and delightful “Finding Dory.” It plunges the depths of despair and loss to remind us that it takes plunging those depths to cherish the small, poignant lives that we live. Where “Finding Nemo” was the humbling story of a young fish with a physical disability (his smaller-than-normal fin), “Finding Dory” is the story of a fish with a mental disability. Autism…dyslexia…down-syndrome: all could be substituted in lieu of Dory’s affliction, which she deems “short term remembory loss.” Dory’s disconnect with the world around her is at the forefront of this ocean tale. Her parents are an encouraging pair of fish who instill into their child a prideful determination to overcome life’s inevitable obstacles. As voiced by the brilliant Ellen Degeneres, our heroine, Dory, is the most lovable and (ironically) memorable character ever rendered by Pixar Animation Studios. Audiences old and young can count themselves lucky to be welcomed along for the ride in this top-notch sequel.

I must begin by mentioning one of the unsung heroes of this tale: the film’s musical composer, Thomas Newman. His melodies have infiltrated some of the greatest movies of the last two decades. “American Beauty,” “In the Bedroom,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “Finding Nemo” all benefited from his expertly crafted soundscapes. When a film is lucky enough to contain the subtle touch of Thomas Newman, it is guaranteed to be full of sonic surprises in the form of marimbas, unorthodox string arrangements and unexpected percussion. During the end credits for “Finding Dory,” there is even a heartfelt note thanking the orchestra for bringing his music to life. In those previously mentioned films, his scores were an integral part of their successes. While his music might fly under the radar upon first viewing, watch any of those films and try to imagine them without his score. I sat in the theater for the entire credits sequence, marveling at his precise, clever instrumentation. If this film doesn’t earn Thomas Newman an Academy Award, I’m not sure what he has to do to get one.

Also astounding are the visual effects. Every rock, every feather, every creature-from fish to dolphin to otter to the hilariously droll octopus that Dory deems “Septupus”- is rendered in such great detail, you’ll be blinking twice to make sure you are watching animation and not a live-action film. Don’t skip the 3-D experience with this one. It’s a beauty.

To witness “Finding Dory” is to bask in the glow of masterful animation. Yes, the music soars to unimaginable heights, pulling on your heartstrings at exactly the right places and quietly letting your heartstrings play themselves during others. True, the visual effects are jaw-dropping. On top of that, the voice-acting is superb: the excellent Albert Brooks returns, along with the new addition of Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, and even a cameo by Sigourney Weaver as Sigourney Weaver (not to mention Ms. Degeneres, whose every word is pitch-perfect, each phrase swelling with humor and sorrow in equal measure). But remarkably, the film’s greatest attribute lies simply within its message. It is a message of encouragement to every child-and likewise, every adult-who struggles to live and experience their lives “normally.” This message is for anyone who has been made to feel like he or she isn’t good enough. The way Dory’s parents instill confidence within her is positively profound. They encourage her to use her unique qualities-those very qualities that separate her from the school of “normalcy”-to shape for herself a nontraditional path to success. Isn’t that exactly what parents are for?  The final thirty minutes of this movie are so exhilarating because Dory puts their lessons to good use.

Inevitably, that end must be a happy one. And why shouldn’t it be? “Finding Dory” is, after all, a movie to enjoy with children. The sadness of adulthood is on full display here around every corner. Parents and sensitive children will find themselves fighting back tears in several moments, particularly when Dory briefly finds herself isolated and alone again, her vision blurry (all the more disturbing in 3-D), her innermost thoughts and sense of direction totally askew. But even in the darkest moments of “Finding Dory,” a sense of child-like wonder and awe is never lost…not for one moment.

“Finding Dory” is epic in scope. Like a vast ocean, it shows us just how huge the world really is and just how small we really are. It is vital that we find ourselves in all of this madness. When the toughest and most terrifying obstacles are placed in front of us, we must keep swimming.

In all-and in awe-of our smallness, I urge you to get to a theater quickly. Sit back with your 3-D glasses on and marvel at the schools of fish swimming by. For two magnificent hours, while the harsh nature of the real world rages on outside the theater, listen as the tide rolls in to swelling violins. Watch as a group of sea turtles flies by in a flash of brilliance. Instead of callous politics, take a moment to witness sea anemones that sting with astonishing realism. These quiet moments of reflection are what movies were made for. Our lives are so small but so meaningful to each other. We are each but a tiny fish, swimming through this ocean of life, waiting to be found.

“Finding Dory” is rated PG. It was released on June 17, 2016.

 

 

 

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