Over the past 21 years, Pixar Animation Studios has amazed and enlightened audiences, producing 17 awe-inspiring feature films. After its initial launch of the mega-blockbuster and first-ever computer-animated classic “Toy Story” in 1996, movie goers around the world have been fascinated by the realism brought to the big-screen by this southern California business started and groomed by idea trailblazers George Lucas and Steve Jobs. Everything Pixar has touched over the years—from the ginormous “Toy Story” trilogy, to the “Monsters Inc.” factory portfolio, to the lonely “WALL-E”—has become cinematic and Oscar gold. Never one to rest on her laurels, Pixar only seemed to get better and better with time. Coming off its best effort to date in last year’s thought-jarring “Inside Out”, Pixar has now released the sequel to one of the highest grossing movies ever (2003’s “Finding Nemo”). And expectations for “Finding Dory” were high. Way too high we find out.Thirteen years after “Finding Nemo”, audiences find a watered down script and ocean-soaked plot in this follow-up fish story. The perfectly suited Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks are recast as the suffering short-term memory loss blue fish Dory, and the easy-going clownfish Marlin. Both compliment the spectacular computer-generated imagery we’ve all come to expect, and receive once again, from Pixar. The biggest problem with “Finding Dory” is not in how it looks, but in how it sounds. Despite returning the film into the trusted hands of two-time Academy Award-winning writer and director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E”), this movie is both redundant and low energy. “Finding Dory” self-sabotages with a bland script that spurns boredom from DeGeneres’ character having to constantly echo the film’s thin plot over and over again as she meets each new sidekick. Dory’s short-term memory loss creates repetitive dialogue and tests viewer patience for most of the 100-minute lost and found journey. It also halts—and then drowns—a handful of short, funny moments before any continuous laughter can be strung together over several scenes. Longtime Pixar fans will find this film easily the weakest story and biggest disappointment ever produced by the computer-generated giant. Despite using the same successful formula and minds behind “Finding Nemo”, this movie lacks charisma, laughter and the customary bold step forward by Pixar. Instead, “Finding Dory” plays it safe. Too safe. We can only hope that audiences will have a short-term memory of this loss.
Promoted and teased as a contemporary romantic comedy, “Maggie’s Plan” disintegrates into a complicated relationship triangle with children caught in the middle of three self-absorbed parents. Looking deeper, we find today’s “selfie” phenomenon morphing beyond the mere instant gratification from photographs into the more surreal, high-stakes role of single parenthood by-choice. This film, perhaps accidentally, captures a generation that wants it all—which in and of itself isn’t necessary bad or harmful. Until one either finds something else better or decides having it “all” was a mistake. In the case of the latter, the iGen wants a do-over. Maggie, exceptionally portrayed by a talented and vastly underrated Greta Gerwig, lacks a green thumb at growing relationships beyond the six-month point. Giving up on finding Mr. Right, Maggie settles for a sperm donation to achieve her goal of single motherhood, just as a disgruntled, older married man (Ethan Hawke) enters her heart and academia world on a New York campus. After getting married and having a daughter of their own together, Maggie finds herself juggling a blended family solo, minus any parental teamwork from her self-centered boy toy, John (Hawke). Overwhelmed and regretful, Maggie checks for an expiration date on returning John to his ex-wife and successful Danish author, Georgette (played by Academy Award winner Julianne Moore). From here, Maggie hatches a “plan” to move all of the film’s chess pieces back to their original starting position for a new game.First-time independent director Rebecca Miller wrote this screenplay based upon Karen Rinaldi’s original story. Both women deserve serious credit for highlighting several difficult and rampant relationship hurdles straightforwardly. Boldly, “Maggie’s Plan” never sidesteps the heavy topics of affairs, divorce, infidelity or single-parenthood. To do otherwise would water down and weaken the movie’s best attribute—the stark and often painful realism found in its script and storyline. “Maggie’s Plan” is really about neither romance nor comedy. It’s about the complicated life we live in and our desires. The film spotlights how one’s decisions has consequences and impacts others’ lives--particularly children. This plot revolves around the self-gratification world that permeates social media and our society today. Stellar performances throughout bring attention to absent parenting, self-absorbed novelists and loveless relationships. Notwithstanding a few funny lines, “Maggie’s Plan” delivers a dramatic, and troublesome, look inside contemporary relationships. Grade: C