Finding Nemo 1 & 2
Finding Nemo (July 29/16)
Pixar's fifth film, Finding Nemo follows clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) as he embarks on a fairly epic journey to track down his missing son (Alexander Gould's Nemo) - with the character eventually receiving help from an oddball blue tang fish named Dory (Ellen Degeneres). There's little doubt that Finding Nemo starts with an incredible amount of promise, as filmmakers Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich kick off the proceedings with an unexpectedly moving sequence detailing the death of Marlin's wife - with the narrative subsequently stressing Marlin's charming efforts at safely (very safely) raising his young son. It's only as the action shifts to the central character's aforementioned quest that Finding Nemo begins to lose its grip on the viewer, with the increasingly episodic bent of Bob Peterson, David Reynolds, and Stanton's screenplay paving the way for an erratic, hit-and-miss midsection. The watchable yet rarely engrossing vibe that ensues is perpetuated by an ongoing emphasis on underwhelming sequences and set-pieces, with, for example, the heroes' encounter with a group of stoner turtles and their eventual efforts to escape from the belly of a whale contributing heavily to the movie's less-than-enthralling atmosphere (ie such moments are simply not terribly compelling and, for the most part, go on far too long). Finding Nemo benefits substantially, then, from the superb animation and stellar voice performances, and it's clear, too, that the film's third act is far more exciting and captivating than one might've anticipated - which ultimately does confirm the movie's place as a good-but-hardly-great animated endeavor from Pixar.
Finding Dory (July 29/16)
A palpably superior sequel, Finding Dory details the adventure that ensues after the title character (Ellen Degeneres) embarks on a quest to find her long lost parents - with Dory's efforts assisted by, among others, a grumpy octopus (Ed O'Neill's Hank), a beluga whale (Ty Burrell's Bailey), and the original film's Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Though Dory hardly seemed like a figure ripe for the followup treatment - she did, in Finding Nemo, come off as a fairly one-note supporting character - directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane manage to transform the affable blue tang into a compelling and unexpectedly tragic figure. (The revelations of the first few minutes completely change how Dory might've been perceived in the original film.) And while the movie's opening stretch contains a few too many needless callbacks to its predecessor, Finding Dory eventually segues into a midsection that's rife with compelling sequences and engaging supporting figures - with the best and most obvious example of the latter a goofy-looking, put-upon sea lion named Gerald (ie though he only appears for a minute or two, Gerald immediately enters the pantheon of great Pixar side characters). It's clear, too, that the movie benefits from a legitimately engrossing central storyline revolving around Dory and Hank's perilous escapades, with its effectiveness, when coupled with an equally engrossing Marlin/Nemo subplot, paving the way for an exciting third act that boasts one of the best action sequences in Pixar's filmography. The predictably heartwarming finale ensures that Finding Dory concludes on a thoroughly positive note, and it is, in the end, clear that the movie deserves a place alongside sequels like Aliens and Before Sunset as a followup that improves substantially upon its predecessor.