Long-awaited Finding Nemo sequel lives up to expectations
LIKE many people, Finding Nemo holds a special place in my heart. I was studying marine biology at university when it came out, and I loved how the filmmakers brought the Great Barrier Reef and its inhabitants to life.
It's amazing to think a new generation has been born since Finding Nemo was on the big screen.
The film's success is a doubled-edged sword for its long-awaited sequel, Finding Dory.
Friendly and forgetful blue tang Dory, Marlin's memorable sidekick in Finding Nemo, graduates to leading lady status.
Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) has been happily living on the reef with clownfish Marlin and Nemo for a year when memories from her childhood come flooding back to her.
Realising she has a family, Dory sets out to find them with her infectious optimism, can-do attitude and a sceptical Marlin and enthusiastic Nemo in tow.
Before seeing Finding Dory I feared it would be crushed by the weight of expectation from Finding Nemo and Pixar fans.
But it's us as cinema-goers who need to keep those expectations in check. If you do, then you'll discover a charming story with plenty of pathos.
This sequel doesn't have the same sense of wonder as Finding Nemo, but how could it?
If Pixar simply tried to replicate Finding Nemo then Finding Dory would have felt like a carbon copy.
Instead the central premise of "finding" someone is interpreted in a new and different way through Dory, who has lived much of her life unwittingly separated from her family.
She's not just searching for a physical reunion but also a spiritual and emotional one to rediscover her roots.
Instead of another open ocean adventure, Dory's search leads her and her clownfish friends to a marine institute which cares for sick and injured marine animals.
Here she meets the most exciting new addition to the Finding Nemo/Dory family: Hank the Octopus.
A cantankerous cephalopod who has lost one of his tentacles, Hank wants nothing more than to live out the rest of his life in the quiet confines of captivity.
But he gets swept up in Dory's search for her parents and his ability to travel over land provides some great slapstick humour.
Other new characters include Destiny the near-sighted whale shark and Bailey the overly dramatic Beluga whale.
During the adventure we also learn the origins of Dory's ability to speak "whale" and her catch phrase "just keep swimming".
I found myself getting anxious during flashback scenes where a young Dory is shown not knowing where she is and unable to remember who or what she is looking for.
Perhaps it was the protective side of me coming out at the thought of a lost child, or simply me imagining myself in such a disorienting and distressing scenario.
I think those scenes will strike a chord with adults and especially those who have or work with children with disabilities or learning difficulties.
Those fears are also driven home in more flashbacks to Dory's parents Jenny and Charlie, who do their best to arm their daughter with the skills she'll need to navigate the world.
The animation is still beautiful, but 13 years on cinema-goers have now become accustomed to and expect dazzling, life-like visuals.
The magic of Finding Dory instead lies in the film's central lessons about persistence, teamwork, family and trust.
Go ahead and get lost with Dory. She might not always know where she's going but she has a lot of fun along the way.
Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Idris Elba.
Directors: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane.
Reviewer's last word: Dory's life story and perpetual optimism buoy this new adventure, which swaps the open ocean for a new environment.
Star profile: Ellen DeGeneres
Quirky fact: Was the first female stand-up guest to be called to the "hot seat'' on her first guest appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Best known for: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Ellen, Finding Nemo, The Oscars.
If you like this movie you'll like these: Finding Nemo, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur.
Quote: "Find out who you are and be that person. That's what your soul was put on this Earth to be. Find that truth, live that truth and everything else will come."