Screen Squinty’s “Finding Dory” Film Review.

Film: Finding Dory.
Directed by: Andrew Stanton.
Released: 2016.
Running Time: 103 minutes.

There is nothing like the sight of colorful sparkly fish with great voice overs to experience the majesty of the ocean and your local Signorney Weaver narrated Fish hospital/park.

Finding Dory is the much anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo (2003) that had been in the works for the past 13 years. Unsurprising as the first installment  was such a hit that it’s a surprise that Hollywood isn’t already on its fourth installment instead of its second.  In this installment, it concentrates on the popular character, Dory, in a collection of present moment and flash backs telling an origin story/present adventure story of Dory’s search for her family.

The film is that a lot of the old crew that made Finding Nemo such a success returned to the making of the film. Andrew Stanton, who directed the first film returned as director (paired up with relative feature film newcomer co-director Angus Macleane), and many of the voice actors returned, such as Albert Brooks the famous writer and comedian reprising his role as Marlen, and of course the queen of talk shows  herself Ellen DeGeneres as Dory.

Having Stanton manning the helm of its development has kept this film on an even keel where many films that have tread the choppy waters of long term development waters to break apart (The Good Dinosaur for Example), this film has made it into the dock with a solidly made film in which you can easily believe that it has earned the $287 million worldwide gross since it premiered June 8th.

The animation had the same high quality as the first film, with some really beautiful breathtaking imagery that shows the animation teams love of the watery kingdom. Though there was less variety of colorful settings like the first film, it did utilize what was presented in the best possible way, making an ordinary public Aquarium comically (and sometimes dangerously)  fantastical .

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Pixar “Dory” from Finding Dory, 2016. Promotional Image.

The character designs with child Dory being the precious little fish bit adorkable without quite falling into Pwecious territory fortunately, and the designs of the other inhabitants of the exhibits was enjoyably done. The strongest design tenticles down though would have to be Hank, the cranky red octopus,  with the excellent voice talent of Ed O’Niell, whose design has the smart decision of using his eyes as the dominant feature of body language communication.

Some of the strongest animations recognize the importance of the expression of the eyes.

in computer animation, though there has certainly been improvements over the years, a big flaw was the phenomenon known as “dead eyes” (The Polar Express is an excellent example of this), which accents the artificiality of the world being portrayed and generally comes across as a little unsettling. This is in part because the eyes are a common body language facet of communication among humans almost to a subconscious level.

A creative team that recognizes this important facet of human relation and communication, make it the most prominent feature of a character (particularly in a computer animation) tend to be the most successful in character design, as it helps foster greater empathy with a character, as well as puts a stamp of a high quality animation for the production company, which Pixar has in spades and is not afraid to show.

It doesn’t hurt that Hank, out side of his design, was a likable character as well, and his dynamic with Dory was easily the strongest feature of the film with dialogue that felt natural, entertaining, and engaging all at once, and definitely is one of the strongest factors in carrying the film, and a character who i can see getting his own movie if there is a third installment.

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Pixar, Hank and Dory from “finding Dory, 2016, promotional Image.

The story itself outside of the characters and animation, does holdup well. The present day and flash back transitions were clever in revealing not only Dory’s origins, but also in her psyche, as well as a plot of character development and resolution.

Granted it didn’t have the grand feel of the first film, but that’s as it should be. The first film was a heroic journey film, this one was a personal revelation story at a very internal and personal level on part of Dory, which the story does.It doesn’t need the grand oceanic delights and dangers to be what it is, with the first film about finding someone, and the second about finding one’s self.

If there were any weak points in the film, perhaps Nemo’s character didn’t feel particularly essential to the film. In fact his presence highlighted why you shouldn’t bring children into potentially dangerous or unknown situations. It weakens Marlen’s parental characterization, particularly after the first film going through the trouble of developing him in that quarter. Still, the focus was on Dory, so the draw backs are minor annoyances at best.

This film swims to the top and over he expectations going into this film, with its great animation, characters, and story it is a high recommendation for your summer viewing.

 

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The Good Dinosaur: A Review.

Film: The Good Dinosaur.
Directed by: Peter Sohn.
Released: 2015.
Running Time: 100 min.

This is a Pixar-Disney animated “boy and his dog” coming of age, feel good animated film but with dinosaurs and cave boys. Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), the youngest of a farming Apatosaurus family, loses his father to Disney’s Death-of-parent(s) syndrome while chasing a pesky caveboy varmint. Another encounter between the two causes Arlo to become lost with the cave boy far away from home, and the two have to work together to get Arlo home.

From the technical end of things, we have an interesting juxtaposition of a very cartoonily designed protagonist with some rather realistic blend of scenery and texture and moments of very real moments of physical pain. When Arlo gets hit in the head with a rock, you can almost feel it. The sense of physical presence is always appreciated in a film, if a bit surreal.

The music was refreshingly subdued for a movie from something associated with Disney. If there was any character song numbers in this it likely would have hindered this film, especially given the choice in visuals and a strong technical choice.

Moving on to the character end of things, we have Arlo the main protagonist, who is a bit of a adorkable scardy-dino, yet tries so hard to “make his mark” in his small corner of the world (subtle guys, really *rolls eyes*). His personal journey was interesting to watch, a well done progression of struggle and personal growth worked well through-out his journey back, and Arlo himself is somewhat likable, with Ocha doing a good job with Arlo’s voice, which well wit the main character’s personality, a professional job for his breakout into a big main character role such as this.

Spot the faithful caveboy (Jack Bright) definitely wins the best expressions in this film. We aren’t given much to go on in terms of what his story is, but then again, this is more focused on Arlo, and Spot is the “dog” in this relationship, and not much is expected in terms of character depth for the “dog.” His efforts in keeping Arlo alive was fun to watch, and his design blended better in the rocky outback environment then the dinosaurs’ that inhabited it.

The side characters were fun here and there with the rancher tyrannosaurs family (Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, and A.J Buckley) especially engaging, and the choice to make the antagonists the storm chaser gang of pterodactyls lead by Thunderclap, who was hilarious by the way, more side characters then main protagonist foils was a good choice in this instance. It was very much about Arlo conquering an aspect of himself and that’s where the main conflict should reside, with the storm cult being merely there as incentive for Arlo to overcome himself.

Finally, we move onto the story.

This is perhaps where the movie was somewhat weaker. It wasn’t a bad story, they utilized the overused boy and his dog journey formula well, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a cliché. The premise was promising; the devastating meteorite that many postulate was the reason behind the extinction of the Dinosaurs misses the planet in this reality. Unfortunately the follow through was…well, not bad, but more safe then anything. There was no envelope pushing here, something odd for a Pixar, which at least tries in most of its films whether the execution was good or bad. Here there was nothing overly memorable about the story. It felt like they didn’t really know how to handle the possibilities of the premise, as if they had decided on the relatively safe formula first and the premise second.

The only other nitpick would be that the fact that the caveboy was displaying obvious moments of intelligence and communication with Arlo that should have been reacted to with a great deal more shock or at least some level of surprise, given the fact that the dinosaurs look at these beings as critters worth for killing, eating, or making pets of, in general how humans treat beings with non-sentience. This isn’t the first time that films have done it though, so let’s just throw our hands up in the air on this one and shrug.

Overall, the movie is a decent watch. There is some good animation, some funny and touching moments that really give you the feels, and some decent characters. It is a generally safe film that most ages can watch, if not entirely ground breaking or uniquely memorable, but nevertheless entertaining for an afternoon at the movies.

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