‘Finding Dory’ blend of wit and heart – ‘Traded’ lacks suspense or excitement

This image released by Disney shows the character Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, in a scene from ‘Finding Dory’. (AP)
This image released by Disney shows the character Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, in a scene from ‘Finding Dory’. (AP)

In Pixar’s hands, the ocean — equal parts danger and wonder — is a vast metaphor for the choppy waters of parenting. Cloistered coral reefs of home are surrounded by frightful drop-offs and strong currents that can sweep a little fish out to an immense sea. When the difference between survival and shark bait is flipper-thin, how much line do parents give before reeling in?

“Finding Dory” a sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” shifts the tale from Nemo, the clownfish with a weak fin, to Dory, the blue tang with short term memory loss — or as the baby Dory seen early in the film says, “remembery loss.”

The adventures of both Dory and Nemo are born out of straying too far from anxious parents. The gulf of separation stretches wider and longer in “Finding Dory” but it’s covered the same way: by pluckily overcoming genetic handicaps and trusting in the Pacific-sized love of family. In the Pixar brood, the sweetly sentimental “Finding” movies are the most ready-made for parent-kid bonding; they would surely inspire countless father-son fishing trips if that didn’t mean hooking the movies’ heroes.

“Finding Dory” promotes the original’s daffy supporting character (so perfectly voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) to protagonist. But it’s not a simple switch in perspective: In seeing through her forgetful fisheyes, you realize how terrifyingly disorienting it is to be Dory. “Finding Dory” is “Memento” under the sea, with a much more chipper lead forever at pains to remember why and where she’s going.


The film, directed by Andrew Stanton, picks up six months after “Finding Nemo.” Dory is living with Nemo (Hayden Rolence, replacing Alexander Gould) and Marlin (Albert Brooks), but she’s nagged by flickers of memory of her family.

A flashback of Dory’s childhood follows. Though it doesn’t reach the gentle poetry of the famous montage in “Up”, it movingly reveals Dory’s origins: a challenged fish whose parents (Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) teach her mantras for coping (“Just keep swimming”) but are helpless when a current sucks her away. Dory grows up a lost and confused orphan.

Energized by clues of remembrance, Dory, Nemo and a reluctant Marlin travel from Australia to California, where her search leads to the Marine Life Institute.

So much of the dazzle of “Finding Nemo” was the colorful richness of its aquatic life: sharks in recovery, pelicans interested in dentistry, Willem Dafoe’s battle-scarred striped fish. So why, with oceans to explore, does “Finding Dory” cling so closely to the shore?

The trip across the Pacific goes in a flash. The action takes place almost entirely jumping between tanks at the institute (subbed in by Pixar for an originally planned SeaWorld-like location) and in a number of less exotic (and less creative) scampers on land.

The sidekick here is a sullen seven-legged octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), who helps Dory navigate the complex to facilitate his own escape. But the movie’s high point unquestionably belongs to the pair of British sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West, “Wire” veterans reunited) who bark at any creature that dares approach their sunning rock.

“Finding Dory”, bright and clever like most all Pixar releases, has the animation studio’s familiar blend of wit, heart and visual detail. But it’s missing its own magic. Like Dory’s questions, it feels a bit like a repeat. It’s certainly no “Cars 2” (Pixar’s low point) but neither does it approach the glory of “Toy Story 2.”

Pleasant as it is, if “Finding Dory” feels a little disappointing, it’s partly because the appetizer upstages the main course. “Piper”, Alan Barillaro’s six-minute short that precedes the film, is about a baby sandpiper learning to feed, scampering in an out of the surf. The photorealistic imagery may be the best yet for Pixar. In the 13 years from “Finding Nemo” to last year’s clunky but gorgeously animated “The Good Dinosaur”, Pixar — all the while making us tear up — has effectively mastered water.

“Finding Dory”, a Walt Disney Pictures release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “mild thematic elements.” Running time: 97 minutes. Three stars out of four.

Genre aficionados eager to sample some Wild West action likely will be disappointed by “Traded”, a retrograde horse opera in which the pacing is closer to a leisurely trot than a full gallop. Despite a few fine performances and mildly impressive production values, this indie drama about a former gunfighter’s relentless search for a daughter pressed into prostitution by flesh peddlers too often feels like the cinematic equivalent of a 45 rpm record played at 33 1/3. Indeed, it’s hard to shake the suspicion that if everyone moved and talked a tad quicker, and all the useless pregnant pauses were excised, the 98-minute movie, which opened June 10 in simultaneous theatrical and VOD release, might have clocked in at the brisk running time of a ’30s Republic Pictures B-movie Western.

Lead player Michael Pare is appropriately flinty as Clay Travis, an 1880s Kansas homesteader who’s still recovering from his young son’s accidental death when his teenage daughter (Brittany Williams) runs away from home, hoping to secure a job in Wichita as a Harvey Girl waitress. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so Clay takes his six-guns out of mothballs — where, evidently, they’ve been stored ever since he turned from gunslinging to sodbusting — and leaves behind his distraught wife (Constance Brenneman) while he tracks down his errant offspring.

After what seems like a very long time, Clay catches up with his daughter in Dodge City, where she’s been dragooned into white slavery by a sleazy saloon owner (robustly overplayed by an amusingly uninhibited Tom Sizemore). But even then, there is a good deal more plot left to slowly unfold.

Mostly due to the limp direction by Timothy Woodward Jr, “Traded” never really offers much in the way of suspense or excitement. But the sporadic outbursts of bloody violence are efficiently rendered, and a scene that climaxes with the dispatching of an abusive stepfather is dramatically and emotionally satisfying.

Better still, Mark Esslinger’s patchwork script contains a few vividly drawn characters, and Woodward has corralled the right actors to effectively play them. Kris Kristofferson invests his underwritten role as a straight-shooting bartender with grizzled sagacity, while country music star Trace Adkins is authoritatively menacing as a Wichita brothel proprietor who insists that, despite his business, he is a law-abiding citizen. Martin Kove is more than adequately repellent as the aforementioned abusive stepfather, making it all the more enjoyable when he gets what’s coming to him.

But the real standout performance in “Traded” comes from relative newcomer Marie Oldenbourg, who’s touchingly vulnerable as a disfigured young woman known only as Girl because, as she explains with a wan smile, she was considered “too ugly” to be given a proper name. To his credit, Clay tries to save her, too. (Agencies)

By Jake Coyle

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