Finding Dory sticks close to the Pixar formula. It is, like Cars 2 and Monsters University before it, a follow-up that promotes a secondary character to the position of protagonist, while also recycling plot elements that worked for its predecessor (in this case, characters searching for someone). Dory also trots out a no-holds-barred action finale, which had become similarly common to Pixar’s output over the years. Yet that last element is one place where the film stands out; its finale contains a level of Looney Tunes-esque mania extreme even by the standards of a studio that had previously orchestrated the gliding doors race of Monsters, Inc.; the climactic, ahem, dog fight of Up; and the superheroes-on-robot battle that brought the original Incredibles to a close.
It’s logistics that makes Dory’s journey possibly even more interesting than Nemo’s. In Finding Dory, Marlin, Nemo, and Dory head to California’s Marine Life Institute, the home that Dory has suddenly remembered after so many years, to try to find her parents. Once Dory finally reaches the Institute, some practical problems emerge. Dory is (obviously) limbless, and can’t breathe outside of her natural habitat. How is she going to explore a huge aquarium with many isolated tanks? Separated from Marlin and Nemo, Dory fortunately meets up with a gruff “septopus” (Ed O’Neill) who helps her navigate the aquarium both under and above water. (A particularly memorable sequence highlights the terror the touch pool holds for the helpless animals being handled.)
The “fish out of water” element is Finding Dory’s most inspired new frontier, and it results in both some inventive travel solutions (including one involving a baby stroller and a sippy cup) and the big action finale. Though Dory finds her parents, that sweet reunion is swept aside in favor of the tumultuous climax, in which the title character is improbably flung from the water (thanks to the flick of whale shark friend Destiny’s tail) and ends up inside a truck headed to a different aquarium in Cleveland. Dory and Hank end up mounting a full-scale escape operation for the fish onboard.
The sheer improbability makes for an action sequence that finally kicks Dory into high gear. We’re pretty sure this film history’s only car chase to feature an octopus driving a truck, creating a fun and astonishing symphony of barely controlled chaos. Hank uses his tentacles to steer and press the gas pedal, but he can’t see over the dashboard, leading Dory to navigate (“Straight! Left! No, right, go right!”), even when that leads to heading the wrong way on a heavily trafficked highway. Meanwhile, she keeps thinking outside the box (her strong suit, at least according to Marlin), following the paths of trailer-dragged boats and seagulls to get the truck and its precious cargo closer to the ocean.
The truck finally faces a police barricade that’s fortunately/conveniently just above where Dory’s friends and family are waiting for her in the water. As with all Pixar finales, there’s a moment of fatalism, as the audience wonders how in the world their beloved characters are going to get out of this seemingly no-win situation. But Finding Dory, as Hank and Dory put it, opts for the “crazy” option, as the two steer the truck right off of a cliff before the barricade—a moment that would presumably cause much death and destruction in just about any other movie. Here, the fish and other animals hurl safely into the water to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” It’s an idealized slo-mo fantasy. However lackluster the rest of Finding Dory may have seemed compared to Finding Nemo, that final octopus-led truck chase stands out as one of Pixar’s best—and most unhinged—action sequences.