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Fish out of water Finding Dory'

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Pixar sequel an entertaining, emotionally charged offering

I'm in the bag for Pixar.

Yes, I know saying that you like Pixar is like saying that you like pizza. Of course you like pizza pizza is awesome. Even bad pizza is often pretty good pizza.

It's the same thing with Pixar. Even their misfires tend to be eminently watchable and emotionally charged, clever and entertaining.

(Note: We should probably just agree to pretend that 'Cars 2' never happened.)

Their latest is 'Finding Dory,' the sequel to 2003's acclaimed 'Finding Nemo.' It's a typically excellent offering from the studio, filled with big laughs and bigger feelings. Andrew Stanton - co-director and co-writer of the first film is back, aided behind the camera by Angus MacLane and on the page by MacLane, Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson.

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) lives a relatively happy life. Despite her ongoing short-term memory problems, she has remained friends with her former adventuring clownfish companions Marlin (Albert Brooks, 'Concussion') and Nemo (Hayden Rolence in his feature debut). However, when some of her long-forgotten memories start to bubble to the surface, she becomes consumed by a single possibility that her parents (voiced in flashback by Eugene Levy (TV's 'Schitt's Creek') and Diane Keaton ('Love the Coopers')) might still be out there.

Thus begins yet another ocean-spanning journey.

This one lands Dory and by extension Marlin and Nemo at a marine research institute/education center (whose guiding voice is hilariously provided by Sigourney Weaver). Of course, Dory is separated from her friends almost immediately, winding up trapped in a lab without much hope of getting out.

She soon finds an ally on the inside, however, in the form of Hank (Ed O'Neill, TV's 'Modern Family'), an octopus looking to find a way out of the lab and into a truck that will take him to an aquarium in Cleveland. The gruff, brusque Hank is initially only interested in Dory's transfer tag, but as you might imagine, he's soon doing everything possible to help her find her parents.

Along the way, we also meet a nearsighted whale shark named Destiny (Kaitlin Olson, TV's 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'), an echolocationally-challenged baleen whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell, 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman') and a pair of territorial sea lions named Fluke (Idris Elba, 'The Jungle Book') and Rudder (Dominic West, 'Money Monster').

(All this leaves aside an all-star supporting cast that includes names like Bill Hader, Kate McKinnon, Willem Defoe, Brad Garrett, Alison Janney, Stephen Rootyou get the idea. People REALLY like being in Pixar movies.)

Dory, Marlin and Nemo must not only keep track of one another, but also try and find out what happened to Dory's parents all those years ago. Happily, they find a lot of friends willing to help them along the way.

'Finding Dory' doesn't quite make it into Pixar's top tier. However, there's no shame in being slightly less excellent than 'Inside Out' or 'Up' or 'The Incredibles' or even 'Finding Nemo.' It is still a wonderful and gently complex family-friendly film that will entertain and impact viewers of all ages; there's a beautiful sensitivity that permeates the proceedings even as the jokes are flowing.

It's funny Ellen DeGeneres proved long ago that she's no actress, but she is just delightful as Dory. It's a role that she clearly cherishes; she does outstanding work bringing the goofy fish to life. Brooks is excellent though I doubt he's capable of being anything but. O'Neill is absolutely fantastic as Hank, while Olson and Burrell are great. The entire cast is great, in fact.

The vivid Pixar aesthetic is in fine form as well. Whether they're under the sea or on the land, the film looks incredible. Yet another rich and meticulously detailed world from the folks at Pixar.

'Finding Dory' probably borrows a little too much from its predecessor. The film's pacing is perhaps just a little too frantic; Dory's surprisingly poignant circumstances could have benefited from a bit more breathing room. And something is definitely lost in their lengthy departure from the world beneath the ocean.

But ultimately, those are all minor criticisms. What Pixar has done is create an outstanding sequel, one that reminds you of the first film without simply remaking the thing. It might be middle-of-the-road Pixar, but 'Finding Dory' is an undeniably excellent movie.

[5 out of 5]

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