Finding Nemo may have been a cartoon about a clownfish traveling across the ocean looking for his son, but it was also one of Pixar's first overt forays into the workings of the human mind. The film, from 2003, was haunted by loss: The protagonist, Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks), couldn't shake the memory of his family perishing in a barracuda attack, which in turn fed his pathological protectiveness over Nemo. Joining Marlin on that quest was Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), a surgeonfish whose complete lack of short-term memory provided both comedy and thematic contrast.
This time, returning co-writer and director Andrew Stanton dives even further into the emotional undercurrents -- into the world of memory, trauma, loss and existential dread. And it's harrowing. Finding Dory might be one of the most devastating things Pixar has made -- all while often being even bouncier than Finding Nemo.
As the title suggests, it's now that surgeonfish who needs to be saved. The film opens with a flashback to scenes of young Dory's mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) worrying about how their daughter's memory problem will affect her ability to fend for herself. They play hide-and-seek and try cute little rhymes to help her remember things like how to get home and to steer clear of the undertow that runs nearby. Young Dory is no airhead; she understands what's happening to her, and is terrified: "What if I forget you?" she asks. Anybody, especially a parent, who has ever lost sleep over a loved one's limitations and challenges will find some of their darkest fears reflected here.