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'Finding Dory': It'll Find You
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
03:23PM / Thursday, June 23, 2016
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Watching "Finding Dory," the sequel to the 2003 megahit "Finding Nemo," it occurs that perhaps even children of John Birchers and Ku Klux Klan members exposed to the high-minded sentiments of this sugary tutorial in liberalism will leave the theater a bit more tolerant.

However, while colorful, intelligent and starring the witty articulations of Ellen DeGeneres as the winsome title fish, Andrew Stanton and Angus Maclane's undersea metaphor could have better tickled its target audience's funny bone. I laughed more than the kids did.

Granted, my observations are anecdotal. Maybe it has something to do with cell phones and unconscious multitasking. But the mostly middle-class gaggle of tykes, moppets and pre-teens seemed to grok the stuff, emote properly and not mind the dearth of sidesplitting humor. But I minded. While I wouldn't forfeit the great life lessons traditionally made available on film, surely there must be an entertaining middle ground between the cartoon descendants of the Road Runner and the sometimes somber and even self-righteous sentiments of "Finding Dory."

In short, while its box-office receipts would suggest otherwise, the feature-length kiddie flick isn't the multigenerational amusement the beloved original is. It rarely plays on two levels, but instead on a beginner-adult tier. All of which suggests that while the filmmakers are wise not to talk down to their newest crop of moviegoers, they're not really sure what will make them laugh.

It's hard enough trying to figure what adults will find hilarious, let alone a spawn that's chosen gummy bears as their sundae topping of choice.

Still, it should be noted that DeGeneres, whose evocation of Dory's non-stop worries, perceptions and reactions commandeer center ocean, gives it the old college try, and commendably so. But while the comedienne manages to more or less hold our attention through material alternately pungent and thin, a larger allocation of the script to some of the other talented voices might have struck a fuller balance.

Be apprised that this is rather serious stuff. The Brothers Grimm, Aesop et al have nothing on "Finding Dory" when it comes to dramatizing a kid's worst fears. For gosh sakes, it's all about a lost little gal spending the bulk of her childhood fending for herself, literally scouring the seven seas in search of her parents. There's not much whimsy in that ... except for that odd, probably Freudian fantasy of temporary freedom that kids enjoy when playing "Little Orphan Annie."

Substituting for the uplift that comes from finding the levity in a scary scenario are the positive messages strewn throughout the seascape. It's a floating lesson in social acceptance and inclusion with special emphasis on the equality of individuals without regard to physical or mental disability. You see, upping the anxiety while asserting the central gist of the plot, alas, little Dory suffers from a vexing and potentially debilitating case of short term memory loss.

Because of the film's frightening aspects, Mom and Dad will want to find a babysitter for the under 6 contingent of their brood. There's no pulling punches here. Dory is searching for parents who may or may not be alive. The story alludes to that possibility, with DeGeneres's animated alter ego donning a down-in-the-mouth expression whenever it's inferred.

But she's a brave soul, the emblematic heroine of the emerging culture. Showing that she can solve problems and be a valuable asset to her aquatic society, the humanistic allegory works swimmingly. But I cynically suspect her resultant idolization in products from lollipops, to clothing, to toys is what most infatuates tots. It's part and parcel of our ritualistic, consumer phenomenon, wherein the source material is practically beside the point. Ask any kid what Dory-related goods he or she has accumulated and you'll hear a list of the proud inventory.

And it's the entertainment that keeps selling. After Brittany and Cooper are full up with Dory-emblazoned lunch boxes, towels and anything else that can be profitably imprinted, there's a whole bunch of supporting characters also earning their immortality in plastic. Particularly good as Marlin, father of story progenitor Nemo (Hayden Rolence), is Albert Brooks, whose comic sense permeates the digitalized doings with notable aplomb.

Bottom line: You have to take your kids to this movie. Sitting Seth and Helen down and explaining that this critic, Goldberger, didn't think it was all that good might be seen as the sort of cruelty that brings child services running. As for you less obliged grandparents, just practice this: "We'd sure like to take Ike and Tamara to see 'Finding Dory,' but we've got these scratchy throats, and gosh we'd feel terrible if we gave it to them. However, we are committed to buying the Dory sleeping bags before camp begins."

"Finding Dory," rated PG, is a Walt Disney Studios release directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus Maclane and stars the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks and Ed O'Neill. Running time 103 minutes.

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