finding_dory_hank_octopus-wideOkay, I know this is an odd one. Most reviewers aren’t going to take a Pixar animation as a serious SF story, but it just struck me that way. Finding Dory is a sequel to the 2003 Pixar film Finding Nemo, and features many of the same characters, along with some interesting new ones. The movie was written and directed by Andrew Stanton, co-directed by Angus MacLane, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. For anyone unfamiliar with the characters, Marlin and Nemo are clown fish and Dory is a blue tang with short-term memory loss. Note: This review contains spoilers.

After helping Marlin rescue Nemo from a dentist’s fish tank, Dory is staying with them on a reef off the coast of Australia. Dory hears a ray talk about migration and suddenly remembers that she has a family that lived in Morro Bay, California. Marlin and Nemo offer to help her find her parents, and the three catch a ride on a turtle migration. On arrival, Dory gets entangled in six-pack rings and is rescued by staff of the Marine Life Institute. She is tagged and placed in quarantine where she meets Hank the octopus. Like many octopi, Hank is a chameleon, shapeshifter and escape artist who evades the staff and moves freely through the exhibits and the park outside. Hank wants Dory’s tag so he can be shipped to the quiet and peaceful Cleveland exhibit. They make a deal for help finding her parents in exchange for the tag. Hank scoops Dory up in a coffee pot, but later moves her to a sippy cup while they explore the exhibits. Marlin and Nemo find sea lions named Fluke and Rudder who put them in contact with Becky, a loon who will carry them into the institute. Becky is distracted by popcorn, leaving them to get around the best way they can. They find Dory again in the pipe system beneath the exhibits, and they ask other blue tangs about her parents in quarantine. Dory thinks her parents are probably dead. Hank is finally recaptured by an institute employee, but he drops Dory into a drain where she makes her way to the ocean and finds her parents. However, employees are now loading Marlin, Nemo, Hank and other sea creatures onto the truck to Cleveland. Dory resolves to rescue them. With the help of her friends, whale shark Destiny and beluga Bailey, she gets aboard the truck and convinces Hank not to go to Cleveland. A sudden stop has dislodged the cover to Hank’s tank, and he escapes again. He and Dory hijack the truck and crash it into the ocean, freeing all the captive fish.

Like many Pixar films, this is quite complex and investigates a number of issues. The main theme is Dory’s loss of her parents, of course, which is heavily charged with emotion and sentimentality. According the IMDb forum, this was intense enough to cause at least one child to have nightmares. For older viewers, there are issues of environmental pollution, keeping sea creatures in exhibits for humans to stare at, touch tanks where children actually harass the fish and acceptance of disability. Many of the rescued sea creatures have disabilities, including Dory and Hank—who is actually a septipus because he’s missing a tentacle. The animation is beautifully done, and it’s clear the animators spent a lot of time working on how sea creatures move. As usual, the creatures feature the human expressions of the actors voicing the parts.

So how does this rate a review as serious SF? It’s Hank. As far as I’m concerned, he’s the star of the show. As it went on, I gradually lost touch with Dory’s theme and started to see a new one about freedom emerge. Fish aren’t real bright, but octopi are. They have all the talents Hank displays, except they’re limited in how long they can stay out of the water. They use tools, build shelters and complete tasks that require complex analysis and critical thinking. See a demo here. In April of 2016 Inky the octopus escaped from his tank at the New Zealand Aquarium and made his way down a nearby drain to the ocean. In other words, this is an intelligent alien species that is hunted, held captive and slaughtered as food by humans. Pixar stretched octopi abilities a bit in the film, but as Hank hijacks the truck, he makes his challenge clear. “Suck it, bipeds,” he says, and drives off toward the ocean.

Four and a half stars. Highly recommended.