For its grandiose reputation as a creative mecca, even Pixar has been unable to resist the Faustian bargain of a sequel every now and then. While Ellen DeGeneres' popularity and the Best Picture Oscar nomination for "Toy Story 3" made a sequel inevitable, it shouldn't be discounted that Dory (DeGeneres) was deservedly a breakout character in her own right when she debuted thirteen years ago as Marlon's (Albert Brooks) memory-addled sidekick. The circuitous dialogue resulting from Dory's short-term memory loss makes for the kind of back-and- forth of an updated Abbott and Costello routine. Similarly, Dory's chipper attitude in the face of her (presupposed) inability to accomplish anything outside a 30-second window makes her a spunky can-do everyman.
The challenge coming for "Finding Dory" is similar to nearly every TV spin-off from Gomer Pyle to Joey: Can a comic relief character carry his or her own storyline? In this case, yes: It turns out there's a lot of depth to Dory when you factor in the potential that her memory could resurface and, indeed, that's the route we go down.
Dory begins to experience flashbacks that take her, Nemo, and a reluctant Marlon (taking each other for granted is a theme here) all the way to a Seaworld-like aquarium in California where Dory, Nemo, and Marlin find themselves in and out of various rooms and fish tanks. Lack of opposable limbs or bodies larger than three inches be damned, this is the Pixar universe and pesky human contraptions like doors are no match for you if you have determination and some crafty friends to help. These include a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) with echolocation, a near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), and a curmudgeon of an octopus whose congruence with voice actor Ed O'Neill's screen persona makes him the film's breakout character.
If you're someone with a deep-seated love for aquariums and Jacques Cousteau like me, there's an enchantment in the animation that you would never get from the renderings of toys, ants, superheroes, or dystopian garbage piles that Pixar has previously done. There's also the added bonus of the biological accuracy and the clever ways in which these traits are ingrained in their characters. Yes, octopi could can change color and have dangerous levels of dexterity. Do not let them near your steering wheel.
High-quality animated flicks typically come with moral parables and the original one here is the way that people with disabilities can contribute to society and are capable of surprise. Although Dory couldn't really navigate the freeways of California, it all feels surprisingly organic here.
As far as sequels go, "Finding Dory" makes its case well as unique and fresh enough to justify its existence.