"I suffer from short-term memory loss" has to be one of the stranger catchphrases in the history of Hollywood family entertainment. The declaration, repeated like a mantra (lest she forget, which, on occasion, she does) comes from the mouth of the royal blue fish Dory - the cheery yellow-finned sidekick of 2003's box office hit, Finding Nemo.
Now the little tang gets a movie in her own right. In Finding Dory, she finds herself separated from her family, trying desperately to remember where they might be. Something about Morro Bay.
Sure, it's a Pixar movie. It's also an underwater Still Alice, a submerged Jason Bourne amnesia thriller, with a fatefully forgetful protagonist pinballing from one daunting predicament to the next, trying to summon up vital information locked somewhere in the frontal lobe. Finding Dory even boasts its own climactic high-speed freeway chase - a tricky thing to pull off when most of the pursuers need to be underwater to respirate.
Something fishy is going on here.
Finding Dory serves up the life lessons and swell moral messages of any self-respecting kid-oriented adventure (friends are good, families are good, be brave and follow your dreams, yada-yada). It also serves up the splendidly luminous and intensely vivid digital animation that the artists at Pixar (and Disney) pride themselves on.
Nevertheless, there is a slightly disturbing, dreamlike thread running through this movie. I'd wager that anyone who tucked themselves in at night and lost themselves in a similar deep sea adventure would wake up feeling on edge, out of sorts. (And what's that soggy clump of seaweed doing by the bed, anyway?)
It should be noted that Finding Dory, like Finding Nemo, has been directed by Andrew Stanton, who also directed WALL-E. Thus, the man has two Oscars for Best Animated Feature to his credit. He also has the live-action and heavily CG-ed John Carter on his resumé, a lumbering retro-sci-fi flop that lost the Disney Studios gazillions of dollars back in 2012.
It's safe to say that Finding Dory will not meet the same fate. But it's also safe to say that Stanton's storytelling instincts can get muddled at times.
Ellen DeGeneres supplies the emotive voice of the grown-up Dory. (In flashbacks, of which there are many, the voice gets babyish and belongs to a pair of lesser-known thespians.) Albert Brooks is back, too, as Marlin the clownfish, somewhat less testy than he was in Finding Nemo. Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton give voice to Dory's father and mother.
Ed O'Neill is the voice of one of the movie's more colorful - and chameleonlike - characters, an octopus with a missing tentacle and an ability to blend into the scenery, quite literally. When this Hank creature needs to conceal himself, he slithers up a wall and camouflages himself on a "Hang in there!" cute kitty poster.
And much of Finding Dory is funny, and fun. But there's something kind of haunting about our heroine's memory thing. If you forget where you are, and who you are, and why you are - isn't that called Losing Dory?
(Three stars out of four stars)
Directed by Andrew Stanton. With the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Eugene Levy, and Diane Keaton. Distributed by Walt Disney.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 mins.
Parent's guide: PG (adult themes).
Playing at: Area theaters.