“Finding Dory” — A Film Review

*No worries. This review is entirely spoiler-free!*

I don’t know about you, but I vividly remember seeing Finding Nemo on the big screen back in 2003. I was eight years old at the time. Thirteen years later, it’s still one of my favorite animated films and is, in my opinion, one of Pixar’s best efforts. And here we are now with its long-awaited sequel: Finding Dory.

I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect with this movie. Normally, I’m pretty good at predicting whether a movie will be good or not by watching its trailer(s). But even after watching multiple promos and trailers for this movie, I couldn’t tell which way it would swing. I was equally skeptical and hopeful. I would just have to wait and see.

Well, I waited. And I saw it. Now it’s time to review it!

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The story, of course, centers around everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang, Dory. It’s been a year since the events of Finding Nemo, and Dory finally remembers that she has a family out there somewhere. With the help of Marlin, Nemo, and a cast of other characters both old and new, she sets out to reunite with them.

Overall, I found the story to be well-done and engaging. The opening scene is very strong, pulling you right in and making you feel things (one of the things Pixar is best at). After that, though, things do get choppy and uneven for a while. One minute the movie is fast-paced and fun, and the next it gets lost in some awkwardly written dialogue scenes. Thankfully, the movie does get better as it goes on, but I did find it a bit unstable here and there. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it was a combination of some of the dialogue needing to be ironed out, some pacing issues, and some trouble on the writers’ part figuring out how much they needed to re-establish the characters that we already know.

Most of those problems happen in the first act and (for the most part) diminish as the film goes on, thankfully. And in the end, I was satisfied with how the whole story played out. There were laughs, and there were also tears. The film has a great message about overcoming weaknesses, specifically disabilities; Dory, of course, has short-term memory loss, while other characters have a missing tentacle or nearsightedness. I do think the message could have been better-integrated into the plot, but as it was, it worked. I found the flashback scenes with Dory’s parents to be particularly touching, watching them do their best to care for their daughter and teach her to do things on her own despite her memory problem.

So, no, I don’t think the story is as good as that of Finding Nemo, but I do think it works well in its own right, despite a few problems.

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One of the film’s strongest elements is its characters. Dory is obviously a standout, both funny and endearing — more so the latter than the former in this film. Marlin is as great as ever, but sadly, Nemo doesn’t really have much to do in the story. He’s just kind of . . . there. It’s unfortunate, because one of the best things about the first film was how well it balanced its two plotlines: Marlin and Dory searching for Nemo, and Nemo’s experiences in the fish tank. Here, the focus is on Dory, and the parts that center around her are good, but whenever the film switched to a character moment between Marlin and Nemo, I didn’t find it to be particularly interesting.

On the plus side, though, we get some great new characters that are definitely worth remembering: Hank the octopus (er, septopus), Destiny the whale shark, and Bailey the beluga are the main standouts. They were great fun in different ways, and they stack up well with the memorable side characters from the original. Oh, and then there’s Gerald. Gerald is arguably the best part of the movie. Be sure to stay after the credits for more of Gerald. And hey, Pixar? How about Finding Gerald for the threequel? Please? Can you make that happen? I need more Gerald!

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The movie is visually stunning, as one would expect from Pixar. The water, the diverse ocean life, the movements of the characters, the lighting, the vivid colors . . . it all comes together in a beautiful package, doing a wonderful job of immersing you into its world. It sounds great, too, from the lovely score by Thomas Newman to the more subtle things like how the characters’ voices echo underwater. Great stuff.

So. That’s actually pretty much everything I wanted to say about this film! In conclusion, Finding Dory is a solid sequel. It sometimes has trouble finding its footing, but when it works, it really does work. No, it’s not as good as Finding Nemo, at least in my opinion. It’s not as moving, it’s not as funny, and it’s not as well-rounded a film. But it’s a good movie all the same, and one that is absolutely worth seeing. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts! What did you think of the movie? Leave me a comment!

Next time, I’ll have some reactions, thoughts, and general discussion about all the new information we got about the new Zelda game at E3! Until then!

 

“Inside Out” — A Film Review

***THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. BECAUSE I’M TOO LAZY TO DO A SPOILER-FREE VERSION EVERY TIME I DO A MOVIE REVIEW, YOU SHOULD JUST GO SEE THE MOVIE IF YOU HAVEN’T ALREADY AND THEN READ MY REVIEW.***

Wow. It’s been far too long since we’ve had a great Pixar movie.

Before this year, in my opinion, the last great Pixar movie was 2010’s Toy Story 3. Since then, we’ve gotten a few Pixar movies that, while good (for the most part), weren’t quite up to scratch:

2011: Cars 2 (widely considered Pixar’s weakest work to date)
2012: Brave (good overall, but definitely not what I would call “great”)
2013: Monsters University (enjoyable and definitely a step up, but again, still not what I would call “great”)
2014: The first year without a Pixar movie since 2005

So it’s been about five years since we last had a truly great Pixar film. When I first heard about Inside Out, I was intrigued by the concept, and had a bit of hope that it might be a return to form for the renowned animation studio. They’d hit a bit of a slump, and I thought that maybe this new film would be their comeback.

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When I saw the first trailer for it, I wasn’t so sure anymore. A few months later, though, I watched a second trailer that came out, and it made me more hopeful again. However, it wasn’t the trailers that ended up making me the most hopeful; it was that the film was shown early (in May) at the Sundance Film Festival, and it received rave reviews from the critics and audience members who attended the showing. In fact, up until its release, it had a consistent rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, indicating that not a single critic had yet given it a negative review.

As of today, on Rotten Tomatoes, Inside Out has a total of 223 critic reviews. 219 of them are positive, and only 4 are negative.

So did I think that this film was truly a return to form for Pixar?

Ummmm . . . YES.

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Now, if you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the movie or aren’t afraid of spoilers, so I’ll spare you the summary of what the movie is about. Instead, I’ll keep this fairly brief and give an overview of my observations, things I liked, etc.

First, I must say that the overall story and concept of the film is utterly brilliant, and while some may argue that it’s not original — certainly the concept of visualizing how people think has happened before in movies and TV — I found it to be entirely fresh and exciting all the same, not to mention exceedingly clever. The little orbs with memories contained in them, the islands of personality, the “train of thought,” the production studio where dreams are made . . . everything is visualized so inventively that I couldn’t help but smile (not to mention laugh at certain jokes, especially when the facts and opinions got mixed up — “that happens all the time!”).

Oh yeah, and there’s totally a “the floor is lava” section of Imagination Land.

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Whoever decided to put this in the movie: huge kudos go to you. Or cookies. Whatever you like.

If the world of the movie is fun to watch, though, it’s still got nothing on the characters. Our main focus are the five primary emotions in Riley’s head: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. You might think that because each character personifies one particular emotion that they wouldn’t be very interesting and would play off of stereotypes. On the contrary, each of these characters is done exceptionally well, and each is certainly more than capable of breaking out of the mold you might expect them to stay in.

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Take Fear, for example. You might expect him to simply freak out about stuff all the time. Instead, though, his purpose is more three-dimensional. He watches out for possible hazards, and he analyzes situations to find all possible outcomes (but of course he often finds the worst possible ones, which is quite funny).

In this way, each of the main five characters is more than just their name. Each one is made up of multiple smaller traits that are related to whatever emotion they personify. Take Anger — he doesn’t just blow up for no reason. He’s the voice of justice and tries his best to prevent Riley from being treated unfairly. (This observation didn’t really occur to me until I listened to someone else talk about the film, but since I thought it a good one, I thought I should include it here.)

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So yes, the characters are definitely not one-note, and they’re all great. Even Disgust, who I didn’t expect to like too much, was an interesting and even funny character. Fear was great. Anger was hysterical.

But the real stars of the show are the polar opposites: Joy and Sadness.

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Joy is, well, a joy to watch. As you’d expect, she’s upbeat, spunky, perky, always looking on the bright side. She’s the girl in charge of Riley’s inner life, responsible for the majority of the emotions Riley has experienced ever since she was an infant. I found it quite interesting that the other emotions understood that Joy was in charge and respected her for that. I was expecting all of the characters to constantly be vying for control, which happened occasionally, but not nearly as much as I was expecting, which made the film more interesting to me.

And then there’s Sadness. Joy doesn’t really understand her, for obvious reasons, and even tries to keep her away from the control board. But when both of them are whisked away on their adventure to recover the core memories, something amazing happens. Well, technically, many amazing things happen, but I’m talking specifically about the overall arc. Because in the end, it’s Sadness who turns out to be the real hero of the story.

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This is the film’s most prominent message, and I thought it was ingenious and beautiful. Riley has lived most of her life quite happily, thanks to Joy. But when her family moves to a different city and a completely different life, Riley’s inner life begins to crumble. Joy tries to keep sadness from ruining everything, but as it turns out, Sadness shouldn’t be pushed away. Sadness is actually essential to Riley’s well-being.

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The scene in which this is made clear is one of the most tear-jerking moments in Pixar history. You know what, scratch that — I’d say it’s THE most tear-jerking moment in Pixar history. I’m serious. I cried more watching this movie than I have watching any other Pixar creation — including Up and Toy Story 3! (#noshame)

I mean, really, though . . . Riley comes home, her parents ask what’s wrong, and Sadness is finally allowed to take the controls. She doesn’t keep them to herself, though. As Riley’s family embraces, Sadness invites Joy to handle the controls alongside her, which creates a new kind of memory. A mixture of sadness and joy. And that, my friends, is one of the best messages Pixar has weaved into its stories. Sadness should not be stifled. It’s vital to our emotional stability. Not only that, but sadness and joy can work together. Sadness can often lead to joy, in fact.

Now that is some darn good writing.

Oh, also . . . Bing Bong.

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When this guy first appeared, I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like him. He grew on me, though, even though I still thought his design was a bit strange. And he continued to grow on me.

And then . . . that scene happened.

Oh gosh. The feels. I can’t. I just . . .

Pixar! Why must you do this to me?! You just had me crying already when Joy experienced sadness for the first time, and then you drop that on me? You brilliant, wonderful, evil people. I love your movies.

*cough*

Anyway. I think I should wrap this up.

Inside Out is truly a return to form for Pixar, as many have said, and quite a welcome one at that. Is it perfect? No, there are a few small things I wish were done a little differently. But as it is, the film is outstanding. Wonderful. Creative. Brilliant. Hilarious, heartbreaking, and heartwarming all at once. The visuals are bright and colorful. The voice cast is pitch-perfect. The story is well-written and well-executed. The message is beautiful, and the emotions — fittingly enough for a movie about them — are real and powerfully moving.

In short, it’s one of Pixar’s best. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the film? Leave a comment!

See you in two weeks!

My Favorite Screen Characters

Hey, all! I’ve been tagged by Christine over at Musings of an Elf to do a post listing my ten favorite screen characters (from movies and TV shows).

Will this be impossible?

Absolutely. Which is why I’m going to cheat a little bit. (Don’t give me that look!)

Rather than actually try to narrow down a legitimate top ten list, I’m simply going to pick some of my favorite shows and movies and pick my favorite character from each (or one of them, if it’s too hard to choose one favorite character).

Yes, I know. I’m pathetic. Don’t judge me. :P

ANYWAY! Let’s do this thing. In no particular order, THE CHARACTERS!

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Phineas and Ferb)

"And I shall take over the entire Tri-State Area!!!"

“And I shall take over the entire Tri-State Area!!!”

Phineas and Ferb is my favorite show, and I’ve got to say that Doofenshmirtz is my favorite character from it. Everything about this guy makes me laugh: his voice, his outrageous evil schemes, his cluelessness about everyday things . . . for instance, one of my favorite moments from him is when he “invents” a vehicle that is “like a car, but it can drive on the surface of water!” He calls it the BO-AT (“BOH – at”), which stands for Buoyancy Operated Aquatic Transport.

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I nearly gave myself a hernia from laughing so hard the first time I saw this. And believe me, there is PLENTY more where that came from. What a character.

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Pinkie Pie (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

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Pinkamena Diane Pie, more commonly known as Pinkie Pie (or just Pinkie) is a blast to watch. She’s friendly, fun, sometimes over-the-top crazy, and often hilarious, taking a lot of cues from cartoons like Looney Tunes with her physics-defying antics and fourth-wall breaks.

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Besides her humor, she’s great because she’s always on the lookout for ways to make her friends happy. That’s her number one goal in life: to make others smile. And that’s pretty awesome.

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Mabel Pines (Gravity Falls)

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All of the main characters of Gravity Falls are fantastic, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be Mabel. She’s funny, she’s adorkable, and she’s always looking on the bright side of things. Observe:

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Yup. With her plethora of colorful sweaters, her pet pig, and her braces, Mabel is a joy to watch in every episode.

Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter films 5-8)

I'm not quite sure, but I THINK Luna is supporting Gryffindor in today's Quidditch match.

I’m not quite sure, but I THINK Luna is supporting Gryffindor in today’s Quidditch match.

Moving on from TV shows to movies, it’s everyone’s favorite Ravenclaw! Well, at least mine. Now, if we weren’t talking specifically about screen characters, I probably would have mentioned a different character as my favorite from Harry Potter (probably Harry himself). However, I felt that a lot of the characters in the movies weren’t quite right. Luna, though, is about as close to perfect as you can get in terms of casting.

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Forget the casting, though — this character is awesome! She seems quite odd to most of the other characters, what with her “not quite all there” kind of personality, her strange fashion sense, and how she speaks her mind no matter how others might react. But looking past her eccentricity, you can find a girl who’s perhaps more loyal and kind a friend than any other. In the words of Ron Weasley:

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Han Solo (Star Wars original trilogy)

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Star Wars has so many great characters, this one was tough. But it’s hard not to love the arrogant, smart-talking smuggler whose heart of gold eventually wins out over his selfishness in the end. He’s funny, he’s brave, and his romance with Princess Leia is . . . well, I don’t have to explain it, really.

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Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)

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Again, LOTR has many amazing characters. But Sam definitely takes the cake for me. Not only is he funny, he’s an exceedingly courageous hobbit, and stubbornly loyal. Without him, Frodo would never have gotten anywhere near Mordor, let alone managed to destroy the Ring. Devoted and caring, everyone should have a friend like Sam.

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Dory (Finding Nemo)

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My favorite character from the movie, and quite possibly my favorite Pixar character. Dory, as we all know, is a lovable blue tang with an unfortunate tendency to forget things almost instantly. The results are always hilarious, and people still quote her these days, more than a decade after the movie was released. If that’s not a memorable character, I don’t know what is. (Also, fingers crossed that Finding Dory will actually be good!)

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Benny (The LEGO Movie)

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It was a close call between this guy and Princess Unikitty, but I think Benny is my favorite character from The LEGO Movie — and that’s saying something, what with it being one of my favorite movies and all. There’s really not much to him, honestly — he’s a nice, fun, enthusiastic guy, and . . . well, he really, really loves spaceships. And building spaceships. And flying spaceships.

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Let me tell you, that part had me rolling in my seat without the ability to breathe. And that’s really all I’ve got to say about Benny. He’s the definition of entertaining.

Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean series)

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While not all the Pirates movies are great, this guy is the best character in each one of them. Never before I saw these movies did I think a pirate could be this funny. Much like Dory, he’s massively quotable, both for humor and for unexpected wisdom. Here, have a few.

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Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)

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Malcolm is my favorite character from this movie. Why? Do I really need to explain?

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In his own words: “Uh . . . well, there it is.”


*exhales deeply* Whew! That took a while.

Just as a reminder, no, this is not necessarily my actual top ten favorite screen characters of all time. This is just a sampling of some of my favorite screen characters from across the board. If I was to actually narrow it down to my actual top ten . . . well, let’s just say that post would never actually get written, because I would have spontaneously combusted trying to decide. *nods*

I think I’d like to do another list soon! Perhaps my favorite villains next, or favorite side characters. We’ll see.

Hope you guys enjoyed this list, and see you next week!