After making Finding Nemo lovers wait a lengthy 13 years, Disney Pixar finally return to the ocean for eagerly-anticipated sequel Finding Dory, which sees Ellen DeGeneres's Pacific regal blue tang Dory put centre stage.
Now that protective father Marlin (Albert Brooks) and forgetful Dory have successfully brought young clownfish Nemo back home, the trio now go about their everyday lives amongst the sea anemones, actively avoiding adventure. But when Dory suddenly starts to get vivid flashbacks of her parents and how she came to be without them, she embarks on a quest to find them once again.
After enlisting the "totally righteous" help of some old friends, the group find themselves in a Sea World-like institution (only much less frightening) in California, which catapults the film from a steadily paced adventure to a fun-filled race-against-the-clock rescue mission.
It's genuinely hard not to have blind faith in Disney Pixar these days. Heck, it's almost impossible to doubt Disney's skills when creating movies on its own too. Indeed, when the former's most recent outings consist of titles as wonderful as Inside Out, it's understandable why many people regard them as the best in the biz. Particularly, when it comes to visuals.
It goes without saying then that its latest movie, Finding Dory, is aesthetically dazzling, managing to best Finding Nemo's photo-realistic animation and make their characters even more expressive in their facial tics too. Unfortunately, however, while technically they're at the top of their game here, die hard fans of the 2003 film are likely to walk away feeling a little underwhelmed when it comes to the simple story. Once again it covers the familiar 'lost fish' and 'someone is looking for them' tale, only this time, Dory can fall into both of those categories as the sole protagonist.
A benefit of it being relatively basic though is, while the follow-up is likely to mean a bit more emotionally to someone who's seen the original, it's clear that someone who hasn't seen Finding Nemo would find it straight-forward to grasp. Dory's short-term memory loss is addressed immediately in the movie, beginning with her as a child, being taught about how to deal with her disability by her loving parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) and remains a constant thread, tethering the viewer to what's going on always.
Unusually for Pixar though, it's occasionally heavy-handed when it comes to the treatment of Dory's condition, however, almost presenting the idea that if you simply believe in yourself, you'll overcome anything. While it's undoubtedly a good message for children to follow, it's realistically not always truthful and it would have been more effective for the studio to dive a little deeper, exploring themes that perhaps an older audience could have appreciated too.
With a grown-up viewer in mind, it's also easy to see that paralleling adult Dory's quest to find her parents against visions of life experiences she had with them when she was a lot younger is an insanely cute plot device, but it sometimes makes the movie come off a little babyish. Luckily DeGeneres's portrayal of the character often pulls it back from this zone, switching effortlessly between landing joke after joke to bouts of self-perpetuated anxiety. It's in these moments that the film is at its most human, and subsequently its best.
It's not all about Dory, mind. One of Finding Nemo's most outstanding qualities was that alongside its three main characters, it featured a wealth of supporting ones who were just as memorable. Who could forget Bruce's toothy introduction while the other sharks repeated the mantra; "fish are friends, not food"? Who didn't love Willem Dafoe's battle-scarred angelfish Gill or Geoffrey Rush's pelican Nigel?
Fortunately, a lot of those secondary characters are carried over into this one, such as Nemo's song-loving teacher Mr Ray and chilled-out turtle Crush but there's also plenty of new ones to get excited about too. Perky-but-near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and self-deprecatingly neurotic beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are particular stand-outs as they team up with Dory to help her find her family, as are Idris Elba and Dominic West's lazy yet lout-like sea lions Fluke and Rudder. But it's Ed O'Neill's surly octopus Hank who often steals the show.
Just like Marlin did in the original, Hank's grumpiness counterbalances Dory's persistent optimism, making for some chuckle-worthy moments. Similarly, his moody remarks about her repeating herself a lot and his selfish motives only make the inevitable revelations all the more touching towards the film's final act.
So, it may not be the freshest story in the Pixar catalogue to date but with its undeniable feel-good nature and authentic nods of nostalgia, you'll certainly find yourself smiling from ear-to-ear that these lovable little fish have swum back into your lives.