Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW: FINDING DORY ● PIPER

 

It's been 13 years since we last saw everyone's favorite short-term memoried blue tang Dory and all it takes is one look at FINDING DORY to ask yourself - How could we have gone this long waiting to see Dory again? But without missing a beat, everything feels right with the world and you forget that it's been so long since our last visit. FINDING DORY is an undersea rainbow of beauty, mystery and fun, filled with heartfelt happiness. Swimmingly sensational, FINDING DORY is nothing short of Two Fins Up!

After the enormous success of Pixar's 2003 "Finding Nemo", the stakes are even higher for director Andrew Stanton and co-director Angus MacLane, as they swim the tides of storytelling trying to find the perfect ebb and flow of story, characters and technology. As we all felt in "Finding Nemo", Dory was the character that resonated most with audiences. She was the optimist, the cheerleader, always encouraging and never giving up; all requisite elements for a story about Dory. During my exclusive interview with producer Lindsey Collins , she described the journey as one that arose from one thought: "I'm worried Dory's gonna forget again and that she doesn't feel confident in herself that she can do this. It started there." From that one nugget the story took shape. "It feels like we need to think about where is she from, who are her parents, how did this happen, and then knowing all of that, where she is today, how do we get her to a place where she feels good about herself and confident about herself." From there, it then became, "[W]hat's gonna get us to that moment and who delivers that moment? . . And then the characters come from there. We get inspired by nature. We watch videos and we go to aquariums." But somewhere along the way, the humor that all found through Dory and her short-term memory loss, evolves into a poignant and sensitive story that is empowering.

A prologue sets the stage for FINDING DORY as we meet Dory's parents, Charlie and Jenny, who do everything parentally possible to keep their little baby tang safe and protected in their beautiful undersea home. Loving yet concerned about Dory's short-term memory loss, it's important to them that they never diminish Dory's self esteem or confidence, even teaching her a little song to help get through the day; "just keep swimming, just keep swimming." And on one of those days while Dory is searching for purple shells that her mother likes, she gets caught in the undertow and dragged out into the ocean, where she wanders aimlessly until she meets Marlin, thus setting the stage for "Finding Nemo."

Fast forward to the present where we find our trio still together. Much like Nemo was, Dory is a lost child. Marlin always worries about her while Nemo sees Dory as his hero. But seeing this reunited family triggers something in Dory's memory. She has a family! She has a mother and a father! She was loved and she was happy. She must go home. She must find her family. But where is home and where is her family? And no sooner does Marlin tell Dory to stay put and not go beyond a rocky undersea cliff, than she disappears heading off into the unknown. Although against his better judgment, Marlin and Nemo head out after Dory and agree to help her find her way home. Little by little, more memories bubble up and Dory is led by them, particularly the ones with celebrity spokesperson Sigourney Weaver talking about the "Jewel of Morro Bay", explaining this is a rehabilitative habitat, in which oceanic life is rescued, nursed back to health and released to the open seas. That is her home. But what and where is it?

But it's going to take more than Marlin and Nemo to get Dory across the ocean. Getting some help from a few old friends like surf-riding sea turtles Crush and Squirt, the trio head for the Marine Life Institute, the rehabilitation center and aquarium where Dory was born and lived.

On arriving at the Marine Life Institute, finding her parents doesn't look as easy as Dory thought it was going to be as she has to find a way to get inside. As Dory's luck would have it, she is scooped up by some scientists and taken inside the institute while Marlin and Nemo frantically and helplessly look on. Once inside things get a little more confusing for Dory, especially when she's placed in quarantine sees tanks of blue tangs, only to discover her parents aren't among them.

But all is not lost for Dory as she meets Hank, a curmudgeonly septopus (an octopus but with only seven tentacles) with his own emotional issues stemming from an unsavory incident in a touching tide pool, leaving him fearful and hating to be touched while dreaming of being free. Seeing a golden opportunity for escape thanks to a tag the scientists placed on Dory, Hank agrees to help Dory find her parents in exchange for her "travel tag". And thanks to Hank's inherent abilities as a shape-shifter and being colorfully chameleonic, adventure ensues as the two make their way through the institute.

Although Hank and Dory make a great team, even they require a bit more help and find it in the form of a Beluga whale named Bailey and someone very special from Dory's childhood - a whale shark named Destiny. Destiny and Dory used to be "pipe mates", speaking to each other through the water pipes at the institute (which also explains why Dory can speak whale). And it's thanks to Bailey and his echolocation skills and Destiny's pipe-speak that they can direct Dory to her home - the Open Ocean exhibit, a world more beauteous than the Great Barrier Reef itself.

Meanwhile out in the bay, Marlin and Nemo are anxious to find Dory and get some help from "two blokes on a rock", sea lions Fluke and Rudder, and a wayward loon named Becky who takes more than a shine to Marlin.

As each team navigates their way through the water pipes below and across the park above, hilarity and heart ensue. . .particularly when we move from the institute and the ocean onto dry land and a Keystone Cops-like chase.

Returning as the ever-optimistic and enthusiastic voice of Dory is Ellen DeGeneres. Now front and center, DeGeneres plumbs the emotional depths of her character infusing texture and warmth into her vocal cadence and perfect comic timing. Also on hand again is Albert Brooks as Marlin while Hayden Rolence swims on in as Nemo. Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton are perfectly voice cast as Dory's parents, Charlie and Jenny, while Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olson are on deck as Bailey and Destiny, respectively. And then there's the hilarious reunion of former "The Wire" castmates, Idris Elba and Dominic West as lazy sea lions Fluke and Rudder. They are an absolute scream, creating this terrific vibe of two lifelong mates hanging out in a bar, or on a rock. And yes, Sigourney Weaver has one of the greatest, and funniest, voice cameos of all time.

But the scene-stealer of FINDING DORY is Ed O'Neill as Hank. As described by writer/director Andrew Stanton, "Hank is to FINDING DORY what Dory was to 'Finding Nemo'". Hank is a stand-out both visually and emotionally thanks to O'Neill's vocal expressiveness.

Directed by Andrew Stanton and co-written by Stanton with Victor Strouse and Bob Peterson, FINDING DORY's greatest strength comes from its vivid visual personality, both in characters and the ocean settings. Pixar upped the ante this time around thanks to its new proprietary software, RIS, the next generation of RenderMan. RenderMan was revolutionary 20 years ago and together with upgrades and additions over the years has been the workhorse for Pixar animation ever since. RenderMan was initially used on FINDING DORY, but according to Lindsey Collins, halfway into the film, Pixar and Disney took a leap of faith and switched to the new RIS. "The architecture is totally different. . .[W]hat the story is about and what that renderer can do - water and reflections and refractions - the stuff that we struggle with that makes up every single shot in this film - was the very thing that this renderer does; not out of the box, but pretty close. . . They get you pretty far along. . .[I]t was a huge leap forward. . .but I think the results speak for themselves. I think it looks beautiful." And beautiful it is.

Starting with the water, and there is water everywhere in FINDING DORY, the visuals stun. This is the first time that refraction and reflection has been employed in animation with water. Shooting water was always challenging just to capture its viscosity, but start shooting water contained in glass tanks, coffee pots and sippy cups, with the new technology the camera is able to go around the corners and capture the refraction we see in real life. We are also now treated to the reflective properties of water and glass which just infuse that much more visual wonder and life into the film.

And then we have the reefs; the Great Barrier Reef and the smaller reefs created within the Open Ocean exhibit at MLI. The color is eye-popping. Notable is that while staying true to the colors of nature, according to Collins, adjustments sometimes had to be made because "sometimes it's so vibrant when you put it all in there, that it's hard to track the character within it . . .The one thing we do is we organize it a little bit more so we create these shapes that are allowed to fall back a little bit. Because it is nature, these colors are so amazing and that's why the only thing we do sometimes is to try to knock it back and organize it a little bit so your eye isn't so distracted by the beauty. When we can take advantage of it like when Mr. Ray is swimming through, those are moments that we love because we can just create it and let it be as gorgeous as it should be, as nature gives it, because we're not having to track. It's indulging in the moment of flying through that reef."

The visual texture of the undersea world is also vastly different this time around. There are layers within the water, the types of water, the murkiness within the kelp fields, the clarity of Open Ocean, and then you go into the pipes where you've got the corrosion and the rust and the barnacles. Treating each different setting as an individual set, and on much smaller scales than the large open waters of "Finding Nemo", it falls to the lighters to play with the quality of the water, the color of the water and the depth of the water, making each feel vastly different from the other. The result is outstanding.

And then there's Hank. Anyone who's watched videos of an octopus know the malleability and pliability of its corporeal structure. And they're smart. Octopuses can unscrew jars, they can slither and, being spineless, can flatten against surfaces and assimilate into other surfaces as a protective mechanism. All of that is incorporated into the character of Hank as the imagineers and artisans move him through MLI in and out of carriers and tanks, along potted plants and grates; different colors and different textures at every turn. The physical complexity of Hank is possibly the most detailed of any created to date. Also key to the development of Hank and the story is that octopuses have three hearts, and as much as Hank doesn't believe in caring and sharing, its that fact of nature that Dory uses against him. Wonderful to see science as part of the story not just with Hank but as the basis for the MLI and how Dory came to be Dory.

The final gleaming touch of FINDING DORY is a beauteous score by Thomas Newman and two signature songs - "What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong (set to a glorious visual montage) and the end title song, "Unforgettable" sung by Sia.

Where we felt the scope of the big journey in "Finding Nemo", here in FINDING DORY we have more of an adventure film on an intimate level, a journey of self-discovery. With all the eye-popping designs and the exquisitely choreographed production structure, this is a memorable emotional journey. Dory never wants to forget things and the way this is visually constructed, we will never forget the world of FINDING DORY.

Directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Written by Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson

Voice Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Ed O'Neill, Albert Brooks, Ty Burrell, Hayden Rolence, Kaitlin Olson, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba, Dominic West (and yes, look out for Pixar good luck charm, John Ratzenberger )

PIPER

Preceding FINDING DORY is the latest short film from Pixar and director Alan Barillaro, PIPER. A whimsical delight, PIPER is next year's Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film.

The story of a hatchling sandpiper, PIPER is learning to feed itself on the edge of the ocean. Afraid of incoming waves that signal with bubbles in the sand that food has washed in, PIPER always runs away from the waves, especially after one washes over him and pulls him into the water! But being the every observant little PIPER, he soon learns a trick or two from a crafty hermit crab.

Every frame of PIPER will make you go awwwww!!!

 

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