Thirteen years ago, an orange-and-white clownfish swam away from his home and into our hearts. He wasn't alone, with his anxious father Marlin (Albert Brooks) just as endearing, and forgetful blue tang Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) an ideal comic offsider. Charting a child's adventurous first steps in the world and a parent's fear of the dangers that might come, their tale was always bound to strike a chord. Pixar know it as one of their biggest hits; you know it as Finding Nemo.
If that film coined a catchphrase, it'd have to be "just keep swimming," which was Dory's favourite piece of advice. It is far from surprising that the line pops up again in the sequel to the animated feature, or that returning writer-director Andrew Stanton and co. have taken it to heart. Indeed, Finding Dory is the movie equivalent of paddling along and letting the current sweep you forward. Cheerfully content to ride in its predecessor's slipstream, it just keeps swimming, with the film's irrepressibly upbeat nature ensuring it stays bubbly and buoyant.
Nemo (Hayden Rolence) going astray again would've been a stretch, so this time, it's Dory who wanders beyond the patch of ocean the central trio calls home. In fact, it turns out that she's done so before — not that she can really recall. When Dory starts getting flashbacks of her loving mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy), she decides to follow her memories. Marlin and Nemo join her epic swim to the Marine Life Institute in California, where Dory believes her parents might be waiting.
A crafty octopus (Ed O'Neill), near-sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olsen) and some sun-loving sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West) pop up along the way. Still, Finding Dory belongs to its key trio. In fact, the strengths of the film spring from spending more time in their company — particularly Dory, who might be a bit absent-minded, but is never treated like a joke. Time and again, Pixar films find the right blend between emotional insight and character-driven comedy, and both are on display here. Brought to life by energetic voice work, bright CGI visuals and well-placed, action-packed interludes, the movie thoughtfully fleshes out the makeshift family at its centre.
Of course, while Finding Dory represents the animation studio at its kind-hearted best, it also demonstrates their increasing fondness for rehashing old stories. There's much about this follow-up that feels a little too familiar. Returning to bathe in warm, well-known waters can certainly be fun, but for all its easy comforts and nostalgic pleasures, it's not quite as vibrant the second time around.