Thursday, July 7, 2016

Deus ex octopus

One of the things I find less satisfying about Finding Dory than Finding Nemo -- like, 2.5 stars less satisfying -- is that I didn't feel that sense of impossibility.

When Gill and the other fish are trying to figure out a way to spring Nemo from the aquarium in the office of the Sydney dentist, you sit there and think "Uh uh. No way. They can't do it. They're just fish." As they size up the obstacles and challenges, the camera moves with their eyes from one obstacle to the other. Their eyes are your eyes. You, too, think there's just no way. It's all too big. It all requires too many opposable thumbs.

So then when they do find a way, by hook or by crook, to get themselves all out to the open ocean, it's just one of those beautiful moments of movie magic. They did it. Somehow, they did it.

The characters in Finding Dory don't have that problem. They have Hank the Octopus.

There are such a bewildering and dizzying array of set pieces in Finding Dory that I probably can't enumerate the instances for you, but I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said there were ten times that a seemingly impossible pickle was resolved quickly by Hank fishing a tentacle into some sort of liquid or other and fishing out some combination of Nemo, Marlon and Dory. Maybe not quite the number of times Dory trails off mid-sentence, her eyes going blank as she remembers some part of her history, then races off like a crazy person, but almost that many times.

The characters were not left to figure out how to do what they needed to do. No, they had a deus ex machina.

Or rather, deus ex octopus.

Now, I do think Hank is a pretty good character. His fixation on a plastic tag that will be his ticket to a Cleveland aquarium notwithstanding -- a plastic tag that's way out of scale with his octopus-sized girth, and has no obvious place to affix itself to him -- he does make for one of the more interesting additions to the cast. I can't say the same for the two whales, for example. The sea lions are only slightly better.

But his almost superhero-like abilities -- to go in and out of water, to change his color to match the background, even to take the shape of some object he had presumably never before attempted to imitate -- just ruined it for the rest of them. Marlon, Dory and Nemo are all essentially along for the ride on the Hank Express. Nothing is impossible, and everything is possible.

And nothing is earned.

I'd had the misfortune of hearing two different podcast reviews of Finding Dory before I finally watched it, and both reviews mentioned the exhaustion factor of the daisy chain of set pieces and multitude of instances of fish being transferred from one body of water to another. But I'm pretty sure I would have felt that exhaustion even if I weren't steeled for it. I can tell you that my eyelids were certainly exhausted by the end of the running time.

I gave Finding Nemo five stars. I gave Finding Dory half that. It's certainly not Pixar's worst movie, but it may be Pixar's worst sequel. Yeah, I like Cars 2 better.

Finding Dory is a regrettable reminder of the era we are in, the era we are now returning to. Inside Out was a glorious anomaly within an overall Pixar sequel trend. The Good Dinosaur was also an anomaly, but it was not glorious. Now we won't get anything conceptually new from the studio -- outside of its wonderful shorts, like Piper -- until at least 2020.

I think I need an all-powerful octopus to curl one of his tentacles in and save me from Cars 3Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles 2.

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