Photo of blue fish from movie
Dory, the forgetful blue tang fish from Finding Nemo, searches for her long-lost parents in the sequel, Finding Dory (Disney/Pixar)

Young viewers can learn valuable lessons from Finding Dory: lessons about perseverance and learning to celebrate their individuality. Let’s just hope these future drivers don’t pick up any ideas about traffic safety.

A climactic scene has Dory, the blue tang fish, and Hank, her octopus pal, driving a truck the wrong way down a freeway while other vehicles swerve frantically to avoid them. Funny? Maybe for the kids in the audience, but adults’ enjoyment might be tempered by memories of the countless tragedies wrong-way drivers have caused in real life.

Beyond teaching the dubious message that reckless driving is harmless fun, the scene may strike some as odd for another reason. Namely, it places two marine animals in an environment where they’re completely out of their element. And it’s far from the only scene where this is the case.

Beginning around the halfway point or sooner, the plot takes the plucky but forgetful Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to the human-run Monterey Marine Life Institute. As a result, she spends most of her time hopping from one water receptacle to the next rather than swimming around in the deep blue sea.

That’s one reason Finding Dory is less magical than its gorgeous, touching and funny 2003 predecessor, Finding Nemo. There are others.

Directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton, the earlier film was about Marlin (Albert Brooks), a clownfish who crossed the ocean in a desperate search for his lost son, Nemo. Dory accompanied him and sometimes managed to be a help, though more often she got in the way due to her extreme forgetfulness.

The current film, again co-written by Stanton and co-directed by him and Angus MacLane, follows a similar pattern except that it’s Dory who’s doing the searching. Though Dory suffers from what she describes as short-term memory loss, she suddenly remembers the parents she lost track of when she was young. With Marlin and Nemo by her side, she sets off across the ocean to find them.

One of the sequel’s drawbacks is that Dory, though she was fine as the comical sidekick in the original, is rather limited as a heroine. DeGeneres is as likable as always, but there’s not much she can do with a character who faces the repetitive problem of forgetting what she’s doing from one minute to the next.    

Another drawback is that Finding Dory follows a formula that’s beginning to feel rather formulaic. When Dory arrives at the Marine Life Institute and meets an octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), they soon develop an all-too-familiar kind of symbiotic relationship: Hank helps Dory only because he needs something from her, but he ends up becoming a true friend.

We’ve seen this before in movies as recent as The Jungle Book (Mowgli and Baloo) or Zootopia (Judy and Nick). Not only is the gimmick getting old, but it’s less satisfying this time around because Dory is too forgetful to bring much to the collaboration, forcing Hank to tackle most of the heroics.

It’s also disappointing that the film submerges itself in pathos almost as often as the characters submerge themselves in H2O. Over and over, it flashes back to Dory’s youth to remind us of the loving parents she lost.    

Finding Dory does have compensating virtues.

Being a Disney/Pixar film, it has beautiful animation, especially while its characters remain in the open sea. And if you want to save a few bucks on the ticket, it’s likely to be just as beautiful in two dimensions as it is in 3-D.  

It also has several supporting characters who are good for a few chuckles. They include Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted whale shark; Bailey (Ty Burrell), an echolocation-challenged beluga whale; and Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West), a pair of English-accented sea lions.

Finally, parents of children with disabilities will appreciate its message about learning to overcome your weaknesses by making the most of your strengths. Actually, that’s a lesson that’s valuable for all children.

Just remember to teach them an additional lesson on the way home: Reckless driving is no joke.

Rating: 2½ stars (out of 5)

Finding Dory (rated PG) opens Friday (June 17) at theaters nationwide, with many theaters offering early screenings Thursday night.