Over the next few weeks, I have no doubt the most asked question I will get about Finding Dory will be something along the lines of, “How does it compare to Finding Nemo?” That’s a fair question, but I will not know how to answer it. Human emotion is objectively something all of us (or most of us) have, but it’s subjective how any one thing will affect us as an individual. So the fact that I found myself more emotional during Finding Dory than Finding Nemo really means nothing to you. Who knows what chemicals were bouncing around my brain the morning that I saw Finding Dory, leaving me embarrassed as I tried to hide the tears streaming down my face. Oh, yes, I cried. I couldn’t help it. Finding Dory got to me, which I didn’t expect.
(I have a weird relationship with Finding Nemo. I first saw it in 2004 after a night out by myself in Munich, Germany, in which I randomly wound up watching Finding Nemo, in German, at 6 a.m. at an apartment with two women whom I had never met until six hours before that moment. Then a German man, who I presume was in a relationship with one of these women, came home and did not seem pleased with my presence. The word “Nein” was shouted a few times. Regardless, for the longest time, I only knew the characters of Finding Nemo as aquatic life who spoke German.)
(Rereading that last parenthetical paragraph, it reads like something that happened to someone else, even though it did happen to me.)
It’s weird that Finding Nemo doesn’t seem like that long ago, even though the gap between movies is only three years less than the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, which felt like an eternity. Finding Nemo was released in 2003 and became an honest-to-goodness sensation. It grossed nearly a billion dollars and spiked the price of all 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea James Mason memorabilia. (That last part is a lie. Or, at least, I made it up. But if you told me it was true, I’d believe you. Finding Nemo was that popular.)
Finding Dory opens with a young Dory, already suffering from short-term memory loss, living with her parents (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton). We then flash forward to the present – which takes place one year after the events of Finding Nemo. Nemo is still a child, not some sort of radical teen, or whatever, which is good news. And adult Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolence; the original voice of Nemo is now 22) and Marlin (Nemo’s dad, voiced again by Albert Brooks) all seem to like living in their little community. Out of chance, Dory suddenly remembers her parents, and off go Dory, Nemo and Marlin on a quest to find them.
Finding Dory reminded me a little bit of Toy Story 2, in that a good portion of the film takes place at some sort of California-based Sea World-type establishment, just like Toy Story 2 took place in an arcade and a toy store. And I like how Finding Dory condenses an environment that is literally the entire planet into something more structured. This is where Dory meets Hank, a curmudgeon of an octopus (voiced by Ed O’Neil) who, more often than not, just seems annoyed by Dory. (Hank promises Dory he’d help her in exchange for her fin tag, which would be Hank’s ticket to the paradise that is Cleveland, Ohio.)
Before watching Finding Dory, I worried that Dory’s short-term memory loss issue would grow, let’s say, tiresome. Strangely, there were a couple of times in the first half I found myself thinking, Okay, I get it, but by the excellent second half of the film, I didn’t care. (Boy, that second half just pops.) It’s never dropped, but it just becomes more part of the story, as opposed to a character trait.
I’m not sure how many people really wanted a sequel to Finding Nemo, even though that film is beloved. It told a complete story. So it was wise to focus on Dory instead of making Finding Nemo 2. There’s been a lot of talk about unnecessary sequels lately, with the trend of bad box office for those sequels. Honestly, I don’t think the answer is that difficult – and we can use Disney’s ill-fated sequel from a few weeks ago, Alice Through the Looking Glass, as an example. No one was asking for an Alice sequel, but we got one anyway – but it’s a bad movie. Probably more people were open to a Nemo sequel, but what we were given with Finding Dory is a good movie.
I never thought I wanted a sequel to Finding Nemo, but here we are and I’m pretty happy it exists. And, again, for me, it was a more emotional experience than the first film. Finding Dory got me – it made me cry. (And I’m glad the movie wasn’t in German this time.)
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.