A Look At Animation (With a Hidden Review of Finding Dory) - My First Unplanned Ramble
Warning, I have a lot to say. If you came for the review, jump the the end, I made it clear for you.
I look at animated films in one way, it’s either a Dreamworks concept or a Pixar concept. There’s a comparative meme online where all of the posters for Dreamworks films from 2002-2008 were lined up (Shrek to Bee Movie) and they’re all the same. Talking animal with smirk on face in action shot. Of course, this means nothing. It's marketing, dumb marketing but still. Jeffery Katzenburg (CEO of DreamWorks and former head of the Walt Disney Studios (watch Waking Sleeping Beauty for more on his tenure)) puts it best.
It's very true of a statement. For example, look at the humour in DreamWorks' films. Shrek, as an ogre, has very disgusting habits. So Shrek makes use of a lot of toilet humour. For Disney, humour like that is blasphemous. The closest they got was Pumba in The Lion King, who burped a couple times and thats it. (Katzenburg's final Disney film). More importantly, the kind of films that Disney make are much more focused on a central theme or moral. Cinderella - Your dreams can come true no matter where you come from. Zootopia - You can be anyone you want to be, regardless of size, strength etc etc (Let's be honest, Zootopia was a social commentary on Race and inclusion). DreamWorks do have morals, yes. But it's at the end, quickly revealed and there's more of a focus on getting to that point. DreamWorks tell their stories in a way that's more straightforward and preferred by adults. Disney have an entire storyline dedicated to that moral.
I would be lying to you if I said I didn't have a favourite storytelling method. Disney's films have far more heart, thats for sure. Walt's signature storytelling has always made Disney's films distinct and better to someone like me. It's a method that has been used by many studios. But one studio took that method and put it in a blender. Pixar.
A Pixar concept has always been a thing of beauty, Up, Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and Finding Nemo are all films that have left me in a emotional mess. I should say, I have been really wrong about this pre-judgment before. Cars 2 looked like a Pixar concept because it was a classic spy movie with the cool ass cars as the characters. Cars 2 turned out to be the most disappointing film I’ve ever seen. Zootopia seemed like a DreamWorks concept but was a beautifully executed buddy-cop family comedy.
Pixar have been on a rocky road recently, it’s proven that they nail every original idea (except Good Dinosaur) but every sequel has a 6/10 chance of being remotely good (Toy Story 2 and 3 are exempt, of course).
So when a company which was purchased by a storytelling giant for the sole purpose of telling genius stories isn't telling genius stories, it begs the question, should Iger have even bought them in the first place? In terms of Consumer Products, Parks and Resorts etc it’s very obvious. Looking at the plans for Parks alone, it seems this is going to pay off (with a Toy Story Land in 3/6 Disney properties (including Shanghai)). Pixar are bringing heaps of money and expertise to The Walt Disney Company. Pixar (in 2005) were the only people bringing original characters to the Disney empire of stories. Which was a problem, because Disney are most popular because of their stories.
I don't know if Iger sniffed that Disney Magic because the pay off has established Disney as arguably the biggest conglomerate in the world (in terms of IP, notability and profit).
Not only have Disney rectified themselves to the shareholders, but also the industry.
My favourite short film of all time has come from Disney only 5 years ago. 'Paperman' is a technological marvel and had the story to match. Honestly, to me, the film is perfection and shows Disney when they do their job just right. It's the kind of film that Walt would've been proud to create. A film that uses the 'technology of tomorrow' (If we're using his words) and makes something that wows audiences of today. It won the Short Film Annie, it won the Short Film Oscar (the first for Disney since 1968). The idea of drawing on top of 3D animation, makes a product thats different, but it also feels distinctly Disney. The story is inspired by those eye contact moments we've all had with someone whether it be on the Subway, the Tube or on a Bus. It appeals to the child in us adults by using paper planes to get the attention of someone. Not for fun, but for that conversation that you die to have with that person you meet in a few short moments.
So really, what I guess I'm trying to say in this unplanned mess is that I think that Disney Animation's management under Iger has been much more focused on bringing originality to Walt Disney Animation, bringing the guys from Pixar to help them with that. Meaning Pixar's brilliant ideas have become cash cows, (Cars 3 is a thing guys lol) helping pay for Disney's new ideas. The storytelling method has changed but the idea of appealing to the child in all of us has remained the same. And that to me is why Disney dominate Animation as a genre, or art. So....
ANYWAY, I SAW FINDING DORY WHEN I WAS IN CAW CAW EAGLE LAND OF THE FREE HOME OF THE BRAVE
Nobody asked for this. Nobody. Finding Nemo is one of my favourite films of all time. The central heart of family resonates with everyone, no one can deny that. It follows the great lengths we all would go for our families and shows us that being together is better than being apart, despite what you might sometimes think.
Going into the theatre, I was ready for the worst, I was ready for Cars 2 2.0. I was ready to say that the best part would be either the meal I got during the film (Shout out to AMC Dine In Theatre in Disney Springs, Chicken Tendies were on point) or Piper (which is adorable by the way, a solid 9.5/10). But I didn't get that, not at all. What I got was Pixar's second best sequel to date (Toy Story 3 is top, Toy Story 2 is now third).
Finding Dory follows Dory, a fish with short term memory loss as she tries to find her parents following a series of vague memories as a child (see clip).
A sequel that follows a secondary support character hasn't really worked properly before. If you're into film and in particular narratives like me, then you're right to be sceptical about this. Having a forgetful character as the central in a film doesn't sound good. You'd expect bad humour which panders to children and a long and confusing plot among other things. Dory does not show any of those traits and is arguably Pixar's most developed character to date. You follow Dory, you understand her. You feel how difficult it is to have short term memory loss through her journey and these scattered memories. Since Dory's disability can be translated in the real world, I can say that no film I've seen has ever shown a disability is such a creative and relatable way.
Ellen DeGeneres plays Dory. For an actor who's only played a support before, Ellen really can act. She IS Dory, no one compares. Ellen has an incredible voice pallet for this role. Nailing every emotion that's needed. Whether that's down to her or director Andrew Stanton is hard to tell right now because even Nemo has incredible voice acting.
The main support (other than Nemo and Marlin (Albert Brookes)) is Hank. A septopus who doesn't want to be released back into the ocean from a research facility (if i say anymore, it'll be classed as a spoiler). Ed O'Neil nails this role of a cranky and selfish septopus who slowly changes under the circumstances he faces.
But the film is probably best in terms of story. The narrative structure of this film is clever and it's something I want to see replicated. A lot of the plot is left to the audience to remember (going back to the portrayal of disability). It's not hard, children can easily remember the key memories of this film. A film that doesn't hold your hand, but is always behind you making sure you remember it. There were moments where I thought the film was over, and that was it's climax. But I'm quickly reminded that there's something else and [REDACTED BECAUSE SPOILERS].
Was this film necessary? No. But am I glad we have it? Absolutely. Finding Dory's moral that us children care about our parents in the same way they care about us is possibly the best follow up to the original. It's a beautiful story with characters that are easy to understand and empathise with. Characters from the original are not shoehorned for the sake of it, instead, adding to the narrative while also being nostalgic. It's a Pixar sequel that doesn't exist to sell toys, or park tickets. It exists because there's a genuine story to be told, and it's a sign that Disney are listening, and returning to its roots.
I give Finding Dory a 9/10, (Piper, the short film beforehand 9.5/10 and Finding Nemo, for me, 10/10)