When Finding Dory hits theaters on June 17, it will have been 13 years since Finding Nemo cemented Pixar's status as the world's foremost advocate for laughing through tears. So while Nemo’s original forgetful sidekick Dory was immediately a fan favorite, it would be understandable if you're a little skeptical that a sequel can do her character — and the wonderful first film — justice.
If that’s the case, let me reassure you that you can breathe a sigh of relief. Finding Dory is great. The legacy that Finding Nemo established in 2003 is well taken care of in 2016, even if the sequel doesn't quite hit the highs of its predecessor.
Vox will have a full review closer to the movie's release date, but for now, here are five things to know about Finding Dory.
1) Finding Dory isn't the absolute best sequel Pixar's produced — but it's a close call
Sequels have long had a reputation for being watered-down versions of their original movies. But Pixar has largely avoided that pitfall, with touching follow-ups like Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 — fantastic movies in their own right — and Monsters University.
Finding Dory, thankfully, follows in that tradition. Writer and co-director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E) turns to roughly the same structure as the original movie, which sent Dory and Marlin speeding across the ocean to find Marlin's son, Nemo. This time, though, Dory and company’s grand adventure is in search of her long-lost parents.
But even though its story mimics Nemo's, Finding Dory necessarily becomes something a little different with Dory in the role of main protagonist instead of loopy sidekick. We see sporadic (and incredibly adorable) flashbacks to Dory’s childhood as she keeps trying to remember not just what her parents were like but what it felt like to be home.
I’d be lying if I said I liked Finding Dory better than either of the Toy Story sequels, which pushed the boundaries of their stories more than Dory does. But I still walked out of the screening clutching my chest in joy as a tiny boy skipped ahead of me and excitedly told his mother he was looking for octopus tracks. You can hardly ask more of a Pixar movie than that.
2) The voice cast — both old and new — is stellar
It’s been so long since I first saw Finding Nemo that I was genuinely surprised by how happy I was to hear Ellen DeGeneres's Dory and Albert Brooks’s Marlin bickering again; the two actors return to these roles with the comfortable ease of someone putting on a well-worn pair of slippers.
But Finding Dory doesn’t depend on the side characters Dory and Marlin met during their travels in Finding Nemo. Surf-bro turtle Crush pops up briefly, but if you’re looking for another round of vegetarian sharks, you’re out of luck.
Part of this has to do with the new setting, since Finding Dory swaps the open-ocean adventures of Finding Nemo for the marine life rehabilitation center near Monterey Bay. So there’s a whole new host of animal species we get to meet, from a nearsighted whale shark (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson) to a beluga whale that struggles with echolocation (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell) to a pair of sleepy seals who only have eyes for their sun-dappled napping rock (The Wire's Dominic West and Idris Elba).
And in Dory’s flashbacks, Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton play her loving and deeply concerned parents, who are just trying to do their best as their daughter seems to forget their every word in the flip of a fin.
Everyone brings their own wonderful twists to these characters, but no one sticks with you afterward quite like Dory’s unlikely ally Hank.
3) If Dory was the breakout star of Finding Nemo, a cranky octopus is the same for Finding Dory
The best and most significant cast addition is Ed O’Neill as Hank, a tired and cranky octopus who just wants to get transferred to a zoo where he can spend the rest of his life stretching his tentacles in solitary peace.
That plan pretty much goes out the window the second he meets Dory.
The seemingly mismatched pairing isn’t so different from that of Dory and Marlin in Finding Nemo, but O’Neill does a masterful job throughout the movie of evolving Hank's initial contempt into something more like gruff affection.
And even if O'Neill's performance wasn’t as good as it is, just watching Hank would be a hell of a lot of fun. As he slithers and swings his way around the aquarium, we quickly discover that he's not just an octopus but a mimic octopus that can seamlessly blend into his environment.
The animation on his tentacled, morphing body is stunning, and a true testament to just how much computer animation has evolved even since Finding Nemo stunned audiences in 2003.
4) "Piper" — the short film before Dory — makes those birds you swat away at the beach as cute as a pile of goddamn puppies
Okay, so this isn't technically about Finding Dory. But I have to leave some things to the imagination, and the animation in "Piper" — the short film that airs immediately before Dory — is beautiful enough to merit a mention.
Focusing on a tiny sandpiper bird as she learns how to hunt for mollusks in the surf, "Piper" tells an incredibly touching story with absolutely zero words. Also the animation is gorgeous.
The little sandpiper's simultaneous fear and determination will resonate with anyone who's been forced outside their comfort zone and is a fitting primer for Dory's travels ahead.
5) Dory’s journey is incredibly moving, will probably make you cry
Without revealing too much about how Dory gets from point A to point Z, it's safe to say that Stanton and company gave her trajectory plenty of thought. Finding Dory doesn't just find a quest for Dory to embark upon, it also gives her real, deeply emotional reasons for doing so.
In fact, Stanton said at a June 9 press conference that he only wanted to return to the Finding Nemo world after realizing when he saw the movie again in 3D that there was so much more to explore with Dory. Why can she speak whale? How can she read? Is it lonely not being able to remember a single friend even just 30 seconds after meeting them?
Finding Dory answers all these questions and more with plenty of heart and, when things go sideways, Pixar's signature emotional devastation. The fact that Dory forgot her family isn't taken lightly, nor is the toll that constantly forgetting everything has taken on her over the years. Dory is traveling to find her parents, but along the way, she also manages to find herself.
Finding Dory hits theaters nationwide on June 17.