Pixar's Finding Dory (2016), now standing alongside the studio's own Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 in ticket sales, was a pretty safe bet from the beginning. The successful studio had already proven that fish and sequels can work...as long as (a) the source material is respected, (b) there's a story to tell, and (c) the characters are super adorable. Though dramatically it's a half-step down from Nemo, the film's obvious technical achievements, solid voice work, memorable score, and rollicking sense of adventure show that it was made with good intentions. Even if its source material isn't quite as fertile as Toy Story, as ambitious as Wall-E, or as uniquely compelling as Inside Out, Finding Dory remains a solid example of the "comfort sequel" that builds on its predecessor without tarnishing it.
I'll admit that, like a lot of Pixar's earlier films, I was late to the party with Finding Nemo in 2003: well past the target audience but not yet a parent, it was easy for me to respect the film's obvious technical achievements without being completely drawn to the story (call me naive, but there was a point in life when I felt that cartoons were only for kids). Luckily, I warmed up to Nemo on home video and, within a few years, was showing it to my daughter...although I'd still gladly watch it by myself. So naturally, Finding Dory marked the rare occasion where we ventured out to theaters together and, while she didn't initially warm up to the film's lonely premise (forgetful fish spends almost 90 minutes separated from her parents), everyone enjoyed themselves in the end. But let's be honest: Finding Dory, like most of Pixar's output during the last 20 years, represents the closest thing to a true "family film" going these days: something that's more than just a disposable story designed to pacify kids and annoy parents.
Of course, it's not off the hook completely. Finding Dory, at its core, checks all the expected sequel boxes: it's a bigger version of the original with a larger setting, broader characters, and more than a few recycled story elements. These might leave a slight aftertaste in the mouth of anyone expecting a studio like Pixar to steer the franchise into newer and more interesting territory...but for what it's worth, director Andrew Stanton (looking for an easy box-office win after John Carter) wrings almost every ounce of goodwill from the slightly limited source material. It works, for the most part: Dory's tale is one worth telling, and the combination of winning vocal performances (Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, and Idris Elba are standouts) and some of the studio's best animation ensure that the characters aren't cardboard cut-outs. Particularly memorable is Hank (O'Neill), a grumpy octopus whose complex appearance and movements set a new benchmark for computer animation. Yet the subtle simplicity of Nemo is lacking at times, which makes Dory's shorter running time feel more crowded than compact.
In the end, productions like Finding Dory still remain several notches above most of what passes for family fare these days, and the only reason it might be picked apart is because there's meat on its bones. It's a perfectly capable adventure that should please die-hard fans of the original, not to mention the rare case of a film being embraced by critics and audiences alike (not rare for Pixar, but still...). This terrific three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack will likewise be warmly received: serving up a predictably impressive A/V presentation and a generous handful of bonus features, it's obvious that the creative team behind Finding Dory enjoyed getting the band back together.
Video & Audio Quality
Flawless, but you already knew that. This 1.78:1, 1080p transfer is absolutely stuffed to the gills with color, texture and detail, from the brightest outdoor sequence to the murkiest, darkest depths of the ocean. The fact that Finding Dory i is a big-budget production from the last few months certainly helps, of course...but this wonderful presentation is also due to careful treatment by the studio: in lesser hands, we'd have to deal with excessive banding, artifacts, and/or edge enhancement. Luckily, such problems are virtually absent from start to finish: Finding Dory is an exceedingly lush film with colorful characters, crisp locales, and tons of little background details, and this Blu-ray gets everything exactly right as expected. Short of the 3D version (available separately) or an eventual 4K release, I doubt you'll find a more perfect presentation of Finding Dory on home video anytime soon.
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The audio is quite impressive as well, if not a half-step behind. Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, Finding Dory's (mostly) undersea atmosphere is rendered crisply from top to bottom. Rear channel activity is extremely strong and well balanced, the dialogue dialogue is extremely clear, the music is dynamic, and channel separation is strong at times. The low end seems more reserved than Nemo, though; possibly by design, but some of the punches don't hit quite as hard as expected. It's still more enveloping than most Hollywood blockbusters, so your neighbors may actually think they're in a flood zone. Separate scaled-down DTS-HD 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 tracks are also provided in English (the latter is a Descriptive Audio Service track), as well as sDD 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish. Optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included during the main feature and all applicable extras.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
The surprisingly basic interface is smooth and functional (thankfully, most of the pre-menu trailers and ads can be skipped) with smartly organized sub-menus. This three-disc release arrives in a hinged keepcase (remember those?); a matching embossed slipcover, Digital Copy redemption code, and promotional insert are also included.
The extras are evenly divided between both discs, but don't get too excited by the numbers: most of these are nugget-sized bites that run less than five minutes apiece, even though they're well-produced and largely informative.
Disc One's best effort is a feature-length Audio Commentary with director Andrew Stanton, co-director Angus MacLane, and producer Lindsey Collins; although it's not enhanced or picture-in-picture like some earlier Pixar commentaries, there's a decent cross-section of insight here that covers most of the bases pretty well. Some information is repeated during other extras, but the bulk of these first-hand perspectives are well worth listening to.
Two Animated Shorts are next. Piper (6:04) is a charming, wordless tale that played before Finding Dory in theaters; the new "Marine Life Interviews" (2:03) catches up with a handful of the supporting characters after their encounters with Dory, and it bears more than a passing resemblance to Aardman's excellent Creature Comforts.
Several odds and ends are also on Disc One. "The Octopus That Nearly Broke Pixar" (9:04) covers the development and animation of Hank, by far the studio's most ambitious character, and includes scenes of artists observing "the real thing". "What Were We Talking About?" (4:26) briefly talks about the challenges of transitioning Dory from sidekick to main character for the sequel. "Casual Carpool" (3:46) features Andrew Stanton and voice actors Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Eugene Levy, and Ty Burrell in an SUV, joking around and talking about their experiences. "Animation and Acting" (6:56) is a more "official" roundup of the voice actors, many of whom chat about their characters and deliver lines in the studio. "Deep in the Kelp" (3:19) is a kid-friendly piece hosted by The Disney Channel's Jenna Ortega, who talks about the research methods used by members of the animation and writing teams. Finally, "Creature Features" (3:02) offers a handful of facts and figures about the marine animals featured in the film.
Disc Two continues the odds and ends. "Skating & Sketching with Jason Deamer" (4:14) offers a profile of the Pixar animator who started by moving furniture for the company before his talents were discovered. "Dory's Theme" (4:56) catches up with composer Thomas Newman, who discusses broadening Nemo's score without recycling everything. "Rough Day on the Reef" (1:10) is an oddly enjoyable collection of computer flubs made during the animation process. "Finding Nemo as Told by Emoji" (2:46) offers a quick recap of the first films for the smart-phone generation. Finally, "Fish Schticks" (3:34) is a promotional montage of the film's characters that plays like a demo reel.
Up next is substantial collection of Deleted Scenes prefaced by an "Introduction with Andrew Stanton" (0:53), who also introduces each scene. These scenes---which include "Losing Nemo" (5:03), "Sleep Swimming" (3:00), "Little Tension in Clown Town" (7:31), "Meeting Hank" (3:25), "The Pig" (2:05), "Dory Dumped" (5:47), "Starting Over" (22:16, a collection of unused prologues), and "Tank Gang" (15:55, a sub-plot featuring characters from Finding Nemo)---are presented in rough or storyboard form with music and voices; the one exception is "Sleep Swimming", a fully finished clip that was partially used for an early trailer. These are mostly light but entertaining, and the way they're presented and talked about makes this a more thoughtful inclusion than most deleted scene collections.
Similar to Nemo's Blu-ray, we get another set of Living Aquariums ("Sea Grass," "Open Ocean," "Stingrays", and "Swim to the Surface") that loop a series of scenic animated clips designed to act as screen savers or background ambiance, Finally, a set of four International Trailers (USA, Japan, Spain, and Russia, 7:47 total) rounds out the package.
Finding Dory isn't Pixar's best fim---or even best sequel---by a long shot, but it's a technically stunning production that plays it safe and should entertain fans of the original with a reliably good mixture of comedy and emotional moments. So while the majority of its most effective moments are little more than variations on Finding Nemo and other popular Disney/Pixar films, Finding Dory still feels like it exists for noble reasons. Add in some of the studio's best animation to date, plenty of great voice work, and an effective follow-up score by Thomas Newman, and it's easy to see why this one sold so many tickets. The three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack will do big business, too, and for good reason: pairing a top-tier A/V presentation and a host of mostly nugget-sized but enjoyable bonus features, Finding Dory is a well-rounded package that fans and first-timers will enjoy. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs, and writing stuff in third person.