When you create an animated superhit called Finding Nemo, sequelisation law requires a new fish to get lost, and found, with each new roll of the franchise. All the more amazing that Pixar’s undersea saga has resisted spin-offs for 13 years. No finny life-form has lost its way until the title female of Finding Dory. The forgetful blue tang fish who stole a few scenes in the first film is now tasked with finding her own way home after years in the watery wilderness.
Lissom and funny-lilting of voice thanks to Ellen DeGeneres, Dory runs the gauntlet of giddy menace and the gamut of grand spectacle (multicoloured shoals of tropical fish, choreographed armies of stingrays) and high-percentage Disney/Pixar humour. There are few dud jokes, if any, in a script directed with vaudevillian verve by Andrew Stanton, the human pilot fish behind Nemo and Wall-E who also wrote Toy Stories one to three and Monsters, Inc.
For children there is knockabout comedy — at its best with octopus Hank, a camouflage-intensive blob whose squishy extensions have a Shiva-worthy expressiveness — and non-cloying cuteness. Grown-ups get to play celebrity-spotting. Is that Idris Elba voicing the cockney sea lion protecting his rock? (“Arf! Arf!” really does sound like “Off! Off!”) And is that the famous star of the Alien series intoning “This is Sigourney Weaver” when we’re ushered into the tannoyed reverence of the giant marine park where Dory’s memory leads her?
Before that, large parts of the ocean seem set aside for Jewish-style vocal shtick. But no actor does waggish woe better than Albert Brooks, re-voicing Nemo’s clownfish dad Marlin. His retreat before a demonic monster of the reef encapsulates in two sentences of comedy panic — at least for metaphysical sceptics like me happily alert to agnostic mischief — the origin of world religion: “If you spare us we will worship you, we will create a monument. What kind of monument do you want?” (It’s Frazer’s The Golden Bough in a nutball nutshell.) Finding Dory is good on bright simplicity, sparing of trite sentimentality and in the market throughout for sparks of subtler sophistication.