There are a lot of fish in the sea. Happily, Disney Pixar has taken its time to create two of the most memorable in animated history. Yes, it's been 13 years since Finding Nemo wended its way into a watery pantheon of wonder,but under the return direction of Andrew Stanton (and co-direction of Angus MacLane), Finding Dory just keeps swimming splendidly along as if it's been just no time at all.
Resisting the temptation to rehash Finding Nemo with new characters as too many sequels do, this fine-finned tale tells a complementary story from the opposite direction. Finding Nemo put the focus on Nemo's father, Marlin, a clownfish, his seriousness and anxiety comically at odds with his appearance, searching across the vast ocean for his son, with a late discovery that his son is looking for him, too.
Dory, a blue tang with short-term memory loss who helped and provided comic relief to Marlin in his journey, suddenly remembers that she lost her parents and sets out in a similarly seemingly impossible search for them, hoping they're looking for her, too.
Again voiced disarmingly by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is where we left her at the end of the last story, living with Marlin (the delightfully deadpan Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence doing a fine job as one of the few new voices, a nod to the need to keep a young voice in the role).
Dory starts getting flashbacks about her life as a baby with her parents (tenderly voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). In tantalizing drips, like Harry Potter slowly remembering his past, her story spills out in clues that leave you trying to figure it out at the same time she does: something about California, something about how they taught her to "just keep swimming" and something about following shells that would lead the way home.
The animation is magnificent, with 3-D splendor that should wow even those who have come to expect Pixar to keep raising the bar impossibly high. Even better is the humor and heart.
Not only are there no bad guys in this one, there are new characters to embrace in the kindly Marine Life Institute in California, a rehabilitation center and aquarium. Hank, a grumpy octopus with chameleonlike qualities who becomes Dory's begrudging friend, is voiced with irascible irresistability by Ed O'Neill. O'Neill's fellow Modern Family ensemble member Ty Burrell is the voice behind Bailey, a sweetly beleaguered beluga whale who's convinced he's lost the echolocation skills that could save the day.
Dory herself pays homage to every child or adult who was told she couldn't succeed without help. In her case, that's because she has a brain-wiring problem that leads to a lack of short-term memory. The glory of her story is that celebrates what she does have --determination, ingenuity, courage --and how her differences can make a difference in achieving her dreams and saving her friends.
In fact the only thing that stands between an A and an A- in this humble reviewer's opinion is an appearance by Sigourney Weaver. Animation angels, I would have settled for it in the credits! You'll have to see the movie to understand what I mean -- and you should see the movie in any case. You're welcome. Thank me later.
FINDING DORY (A-)
Directed by Andrew Stanton, co-directed by Angus MacLane. PG (for mild thematic elements). 95 minutes. In wide release.