The wife and I had a date night this past weekend, and went out to see Finding Dory. Despite what the title of this article may suggest, we both absolutely loved it. I thought it was wonderful. But on the way home we began to discuss how to make a sequel to a movie like Finding Nemo.
Finding Nemo is about a very specific subject. Finding Nemo. It's a buddy road trip movie about a journey outside of ones comfort zone. But there is a very specific task that needs to be accomplished. The central draw to the movie revolves around that specific goal. The whole reason for the movie's existence rests on that plot point. How do you make a sequel to a movie without just redoing the same plot points?
Why Make a Sequel?
The justification for a sequel should rest on the allure of the idea of where the characters go next. If there are more adventures to be had that would make for an interesting engaging flick, then let's have at it. I wanted to see more of Luke Skywalker's journey at the conclusion of Star Wars: A New Hope. I wanted to see what new nemesis Bruce Wayne/Batman would face after Batman Begins. Even Wayne's World had a worth while sequel that didn't simply retread the same plot, bits, and jokes from the first movie. A Sequel should be made because there is a good story to be told in addition to the original. It needs to be familiar, but fresh at the same time.
But what we see, especially with animated films as specific as Finding Nemo, is that the second movie will typically redo the first. Albeit with a different character, and maybe some roles swapped out. Most times it looks like they took the story from the first movie, and simply cut, paste, and swap to create the sequel. They keep the same beats, they keep the same pacing, and even keep the same events, in a manner of speaking. They beat the audience over the head with retreaded work to scream at the top of their lungs, "Hey! Remember this? Wasn't this funny the first time? Well here it is again, but with a hat!"
Hangover Part 2, the Worst Offender
Take the Hangover Part 2 for instance. They took the exact same plot, the same beats, and even the same jokes and just set it in Thailand. The plot to the Hangover was such a specific set of circumstances that to do a sequel that does anything new is almost impossible. How do you make a sequel to a movie that was about a once in a life time event, and have that event happen a second time to the same set of people, and make it feel like you haven't seen this story before? It's next to impossible. Sadly, Hangover Part 2, didn't succeed in creating something wholly new and original that was worth while.
But how could it have succeeded? The whole point of the plot from the first movie was 3 dudes recovering from a drunken night of debauchery, and trying to figure out where their friend was. How do you do a sequel to that movie, keep the name, keep the premise, and make it original? Set it in a different country? Think of even crazier schemes for the guys to discover that they did while roofied?
This isn't to say that there was nothing interesting, or fun, about these characters. I would love to see more of their adventures. But does it have to revolve around the concept of recovering from a drunken bender? Aren't there more hijinks that they could find themselves involved in that is completely different than their first escapade? There's so much more they could have done, if they hadn't have kept to the premise of the first film. But then, it wouldn't have been the Hangover, now would it?
Dory's Own Adventure
What I greatly respect about Pixar, is that they recognized this pitfall. They have such a great respect and understanding for the craft of creating a story. They knew they needed to balance the old with the new very carefully. They knew that the hook for the film was going to be a long journey from one's own home, to a place where they not only find the thing/person they were looking for, but ultimately find themselves. Rather than take the external, and obvious, beats from Finding Nemo, and recreate them, they took the soul of the film, and transplanted it to Dory's story.
The inciting incident for the Finding Dory isn't her kidnapping like it was with Nemo. The journey begins not in finding her, but in finding her family. We are given a new motive for our characters to begin their journey. Granted, there comes a point she is snatched out of the water onto a boat like Nemo in first, but the similarity ends there. It doesn't deter her from her original goal she set out on. As a matter of fact, it pushes her forward closer to that goal.
What I absolutely loved is that Finding Dory wasn't simply about finding a friend or loved one that was lost. Rather, it became about Dory finding herself. Where she came from. Who she was. And what she will become. Marlin and Nemo weren't the only ones trying to find Dory. Dory was trying to find Dory. It's about her finding herself. A wonderful play on words with the title and concept.
Original Call Backs
This isn't to say that they didn't do any sort of call backs to the original movie. There were winks and nods to Finding Nemo. Pixar did have those moments of "Hey! Remember this! We know you loved this!". But they didn't pander to the audience. And they gave the bit more than just a new hat. It wasn't shallow, or lazy. It was simply a moment of fan service to respect the fans of the original, and give us a chuckle. It allowed us to reminisce, but then move on.
There was also an old bit from the original that they had redone in a new way. I don't want to give spoilers for those who haven't seen it yet. But I will simply say that Becky is a very worthwhile successor to Nigel the Pelican from the first film. I could spot the parallels in that sequence to the original, but the character of Becky presented the bit in a different light. The father, son duo suffered different consequences and problems that Marlin and Nemo had to react to in light of her "aid" to their journey. The wife and I found ourselves in fits of laughter and tears anytime Becky showed up to "help".
This is what made this movie great. It captured the spirit and soul of the original film. It took the characters and acknowledge the change they had undergone in the first, and didn't retread that same territory. It made them change in a different area of their lives. They faced different obstacles, and had to grow in new ways. The journey may have been similar, but it certainly was not the same.