—Originally written June 19, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see art together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Finding Dory,” PIXAR’s recently released sequel to 2003’s “Finding Nemo.” Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
The dull thumping of feet coming from the hallway informed Eleanor’s mother that her daughter was on her way to the living room. Tearing in between the boxes, still waiting to be unpacked, Eleanor’s head poked into view as she held aloft a plastic turtle and soared him through the air in the apartment.
“Gnarly, dude!” Eleanor said, loudly. She wove around the nearly empty apartment, the plastic toy leading the way as her mother watched from behind the kitchen counter. “You so totally rock, Squirt!”
Her mother laughed.
“Ellie! Can you calm down for a moment?”
The child slowed down, and fell onto a nearby couch.
“I’m hungry. When is dinner going to be ready?”
“Pretty soon, honey. I know there’s not much to do right now, but I’m cooking your favorite. So it’ll be done soon.”
“About a half hour.”
Eleanor groaned. She slumped into the couch. Moving had been difficult, and she was tired from the long day of unpacking yesterday. She looked at the plastic turtle in her hand.
“Why don’t you keep playing with Crush? Don’t let me stop you.”
“I wanna watch the real movie again. Can I watch the real movie?”
“No, Ellie, you just watched it yesterday on the drive here.”
“But I really like that one. Really.”
Her mother sighed. She glanced back at the vegetables, still needing to be cut and stewed. It was going to be a long 30 minutes with Eleanor in tow.
“All right, but you have to promise you’ll stop as soon as I say that dinner is ready. Deal?”
Her mother crossed to one of the already opened boxes and found the old portable DVD player – the one with a large scratch across the top from where Eleanor had once dropped it on the pavement. The DVD was still inside from the day before.
“Where do you want to start? At the beginning?”
“At the turtles!” Eleanor held the turtle in her hand up high.
Her mother smiled, expecting the answer. “All right, sit here.”
Eleanor settled into the new couch, which still smelled like the store where they bought it – cleaning spray and untouched upholstery. Her mother set the DVD player on top of an unopened box, clicking through menus until she reached a screen labeled “Scene Selection.” Finding a picture of turtles…
“Yes! That one!”
As her mother cooked just a few feet away, Eleanor watched, enraptured, as the clownfish and blue tang navigated a bevvy of sea turtles, eventually following the E.A.C. until they reached the harbors of Sydney, Australia, and swam off…
“Of all films I did not expect to end with a wild car chase…”
Gwen was already going off as they exited the theatre. Eleanor tossed an empty butter-coated bag into an overflowing trash can, and followed Gwen and Dania as they walked outside.
“…the absolute last one is the film that takes place entirely underwater.”
“Oh, whatever,” Dania said, not wanting to start their discussion on a negative note. “They have to get bigger and better in the sequel, right?”
“Of course, but the entire end of the movie just refused to…end. It all felt like one long climax, then entire last 30 minutes.”
“What about the slow part at the end, when Dory finds…”
“Yes, that part was slow,” Gwen admitted. “But even then, her immediate reaction is, ‘oh no, more people we have to save!,’ and the movie just keeps going on.”
“Did it feel like it was too long?” Dania asked.
“No, actually, it felt almost too short,” Gwen said, her hands waving around. “It all went by so fast, because everything was a climax, that it didn’t seem like anything had any time to develop or think.”
“Well, that’s ‘what Dory would do,’” Dania said, quoting the film’s memorable line. Gwen rolled her eyes.
“I guess,” Gwen said, digging her hands into the pockets of her jacket. “I don’t know if ‘thinking Dory’ gets you the most entertaining film, though.”
“You didn’t hate it, though, right? Like, really. You didn’t actually dislike it, right?”
“…no,” Gwen concluded, after a moment. “It the PIXAR problem: I hold them to a higher standard, so I get kinda snippy about the films they put out. I shouldn’t – or at least I should treat them the same as any other film studio. They still have excellent writers, ideas, animation…the craft is always top-notch regardless of what it’s containing.”
“The animation was gorgeous!” Dania swooned. “PIXAR needs to stop showing off. Especially in the short film – the short film!!!”
“That short film was really sweet,” Gwen said, smiling slightly. “Nothing extraneous, just a simple story told very well. And beautifully animated.”
“Are they ever going to do an entire film in that photorealistic style?” Eleanor asked, finally joining the conversation.
“I hope they do,” Dania said. “It looks dope. The little birds were really cute, and the “Blue Umbrella” short from whichever earlier film that was with was also in that style.”
“Still, character design and animation is always one of PIXAR’s strong points,” Gwen pointed out. “They’d lose that with photorealism.”
“Well, most of the character designs in Finding Nemo are based on real fish, rather than human forms,” Dania said with a smile.
“True, true,” Gwen said. “But look at this movie. You’ve got that crazy weird-feathered bird, the really clever camouflage work with the octopus, the beluga whale with his echolocation…”
“The echolocation bothered me a little bit,” Eleanor interrupted.
“What about it bothered you? I thought it was cool,” Dania said, “Like a superpower or something.”
“That’s what bothered me, though. It felt a little too much like a superpower,” Eleanor explained. “It felt like something that wouldn’t normally exist in a Finding Nemo movie.”
“Well, there’s only been one Finding Nemo movie before this one,” Dania said. “It’s an interesting concept to introduce.”
“But it’s not the same,” Eleanor continued. “The echolocation being basically a way of seeing Dory when she’s super far away, with the unrealistic physics of their voices speaking through the pipes, and the stupid car chase at the end, it all felt…”
“Inconsistent?” Gwen volunteered.
“Yeah, that.” Eleanor sighed. “I liked it overall, but it didn’t really feel like a follow-up to Finding Nemo. The tone was off, and a little too fast, and the search and rescue was almost over a few too many times for me to really buy it.”
“The stakes never get any lower but there’s no internal goals to reach aside from the superobjective, so it seems drawn out,” Gwen clarified.
Eleanor rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I guess that, Gwen.”
“Sorry for the terminology,” Gwen said. She put a hand on Eleanor’s shoulder. “I’m trying to phrase it so I can clarify what you’re thinking. I might agree with you.”
“Oh, so neither of you liked it?” Dania asked.
“No, I liked it fine,” Gwen said, defensively. “I just think it was pretty simple, as films go. Not entirely necessary as a sequel, but not an obvious cash grab or anything. It feels like it was made out of love for the original, but from a more general love than an appreciation of what made the original work.”
“The original works because there’s a long journey with obstacles to overcome, and the end goal is generic enough that narrowing it all down is actually half the work,” Eleanor said suddenly. “It’s not just about finding Nemo physically, it’s about trying to connect with him and being a good dad.”
“Agreed,” Gwen said.
“Marlin is worried about doing everything he and Dory do in the first film, but here he just seems unnecessarily okay with everything he and Nemo have to do to get Dory back. And moving the story onto land with the animals in whatever water-filled cups or buckets the film can pull together feels like cheating a way out of the water where the first film took place.”
An uneasy silence floated between the girls as they walked.
“I did think it was weird how they kept finding random items to fill with water to carry the fish everywhere,” Dania said, with an eye on Eleanor.
“Especially ones that were non-opaque, so you could still see Dory,” Gwen added.
“It’s like…too much of it doesn’t feel like the original film, and it doesn’t…” Eleanor trailed off.
“Well, the original film was…it was also really slow,” Dania began.
“I haven’t seen the original film in a while,” Gwen admitted.
“I watched it a lot growing up,” Dania said, “but it’s been at least a few years since I watched it with my siblings.”
“I watched it this morning,” Eleanor said. “I wanted to compare the two.”
“Dang,” Gwen said. “I guess that’s one way to do it.”
“They just didn’t totally feel like the same movie,” Eleanor said. “Atmospherically, and all.”
“You watched it growing up?”
“Then you probably have a biased opinion,” Gwen explained. “Not that that’s a negative, but it will affect your enjoyment of a sequel.”
“It has been thirteen years since the original. Sometimes it’s hard to rekindle a feeling from so long ago.”
“Has it really been thirteen years?” Dania asked, suddenly.
“Yes. 2003 to 2016.”
“Woah.” Dania held her head. “I feel old.”
Another silence drifted through the June air.
“I liked the short film, too,” Eleanor said, after a moment spent flipping through memories inside her head. “It was cute.”
“It’s rare that you see sand animated as individual grains rather than as a mass,” Gwen said.
“It makes sense, since the birbs are so smol,” Dania added.
“They’re hecka smol.”