Pixar continues to lead its fans toward greater film appreciation.
As with any Pixar movie, Finding Dory can be appreciated by moviegoers of all ages. Toddlers will enjoy the colorful cartoon slapstick and older folks can delight in its artful balance of faithfully detailed animated oceanic life and the preposterous madcap situations the characters get into.
Obviously, it gives reason for the little ones to go back and check out the original, Finding Nemo, released before anyone up to age 13 was even born. Hopefully it may serve as a gateway to other classics, as well. That’s not just something for the younger audiences, either. All of us are always open to discovering movies of the past through the movies of the present.
And I’d like to recommend a bunch going back many decades and ranging from the obvious to the more obscure. Admittedly, I did not spot many of the kinds of film allusions Pixar is known for and await the obligatory videos and /Film posts pointing those Easter eggs out to me later, and some of them might also be worth adding to the following list.
Frolicking Fish (1930)
Long before Pixar existed let alone Finding Nemo and now its sequel, Walt Disney produced this black and white animated short under his Silly Symphony banner. It’s also a cartoon about fish and like Dory prominently involves an octopus, though here he’s the villain. The film is historically significant for its pioneering use of overlapping action in its animation.
The Silent World (1956)
While neither the first noteworthy nonfiction film to feature underwater cinematography (see 1914’s Thirty Leagues Under the Sea), not even in color (that’d be the Oscar-winning 1953 feature The Sea Around Us), nor the first significant documentary by oceanographer-turned-filmmaker Jacques Cousteau (he’d even already received an Oscar nomination for his 1951 short Danger Under the Sea), this monumental Oscar-winning collaboration with director Louis Malles is still a one of the most beautiful and fascinating and accessible works of its kind. It’s also possibly the best way to get new viewers into the other great films of Cousteau and of more oceanographic cinema both earlier (John Ernest Williamson is a name that deserves knowing) and later (particularly David Attenborough and James Cameron stuff, plus Disneynature’s Oceans). Just try to ignore the fact that Cousteau may have killed many Nemos, Marlins and Dorys with his coral reef explosion.
One thing that is cracking up older Dory viewers is the voice of Sigourney Weaver, as herself, for intercom announcements for the visitors of the movie’s aquarium theme park and marine life institute. Her audio presence is of course a nod to her narration of Attenborough’s Planet Earth series as well as to her role as the ship computer voice in Pixar’s WALL-E. She’s also the star of this landmark sci-fi horror movie, to which there’s an extra homage when the beluga whale, Bailey, uses his echolocation to help Dory navigate a system of pipe. Kids getting out of Dory should immediately be shown the scene below. Well, maybe they can wait until they’re a bit older.
An American Tail (1986)
Somewhere out there is another animated film about a lovable animal character in search of his parents after being lost at sea. Steven Spielberg produced this feature by Don Bluth that is set in the 19th century and follows a mouse named Fievel who lands in New York City and has a great adventure before – spoiler alert – finally locating his immigrant family through luck and coincidence as opposed to convenient memory surges.
Die Hard (1988)
Given that the pipe sequence is linked to a ventilation shaft sequence in Alien, maybe there’s also a Die Hard allusion in there, too. I didn’t catch any homage to this influential action movie, but Dory director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins told Collider there are at least two. And it was a funny parody of Pixar fan theories that inspired them.
The Wizard (1989)
I can’t wait until YouTube user Couch Tomato actually does a comparison of Dory and this very dated but still entertaining movie that is also now a fine artifact for kids curious what it was like to be a child of the late 1980s. Both movies follow a character with a certain disability set on a journey to California who winds up at a theme park (here Universal Studios) and has to navigate through a system of pipes (here virtually while playing the video game Super Mario Bros. 3). And he’s even followed by a concerned father and son.
Flirting With Disaster (1996)
When it comes to movies about grown ups searching for their birth parents, you can’t do much better than this early, underrated effort by David O. Russell. Ben Stiller is the human Dory, an adoptee instead of an amnesiac, on the search for his mother and father with help from a hilarious cast including Patricia Arquette, Tea Leoni, Josh Brolin, and Richard Jenkins.
Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry (1999)
I already mentioned how Sigourney Weaver was the voice of a very popular nature series and how that’s relevant, but here’s a lesser known documentary she narrated prior to doing that project. It’s not as good but it is pretty cute, focusing on human-like characteristics of all kinds of animals, including octopi, which is interesting and pertinent for the consideration of Disney animated films and Disneynature docs that do a lot of anthropomorphizing.
Here’s the most obvious movie I could possibly recommend for something involving a character with short-term memory loss working backwards to get to their origins. Of course, Christopher Nolan’s breakthrough thriller is structured that way, not about a character going back. But it’s too perfectly relevant to leave it off the list, and anyway kids seeing Dory aren’t even aware of it. Yet. They will become so anyway without my help, but still.
Exploring the Reef (2003)
Following in his father’s footsteps, Jean-Michel Cousteau attempts to make a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef but is constantly interrupted and upstaged by some of the fish on camera, specifically two clownfish and a a Pacific regal blue tang. No, this isn’t a serious short but a fun combination of oceanic nature doc and Pixar animation, made for the Finding Nemo DVD. I actually prefer it to the feature it supplements. And for those interested in going beyond, Cousteau is involved with genuine nonfiction projects, including some with his father and some about the now-deceased legend.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
I know, it’s also not very necessary to include another Pixar movie on this list, but I’m recommending this third Toy Story installment as possibly a re-watch (if you’ve seen it already) because it’s up for debate among critics and fans which is the better Pixar sequel, this or that. Also, there’s a bit in Dory that I found to be a recycling of a humorous situation in Toy Story 3: the touch pool scene is identical in purpose, the way scared creatures hide from children’s hands, as the moment in this movie where scared toys hide from toddlers’ hands, tongues, and bottoms.
And finally here’s another expected and obvious recommendation, but it’s a documentary so I assume most people still haven’t seen it, even if they’re aware of it. Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s astonishingly effective, world-changing film about orca captivity not only influenced SeaWorld attendees and the theme park itself but also the making of Dory, which reportedly had a different ending and greater lenience on marine parks before alterations were made. In a new interview with ScreenCrush, Stanton downplays its impact on the animated film, but regardless Blackfish is still essential viewing for fans of the new Pixar release.
Related Topics: Animation, Disney, Documentary, Movie DNA, Pixar