Weekender

‘Finding Dory’ joins a long line of summer sequels

The highly anticipated sequel to “Finding Nemo” — “Finding Dory” — comes out on Friday.
The highly anticipated sequel to “Finding Nemo” — “Finding Dory” — comes out on Friday. Pixar via Tribune News Service

There are several adults in my office who are very excited about “Finding Dory.”

With the long awaited follow-up to 2003’s “Finding Nemo” finally hitting theaters this weekend, the time seems ripe to discuss that perennial summer staple — the sequel.

In less than humble estimation, the s-word gets a bad rap, the victim of a knee-jerk assumption perpetuated by brethren of a lesser ilk.

Criticisms leveled against the standard movie title bearing the number “two” or higher typically range from accusations of unoriginality to the presumption that the entire enterprise is a star-studded excuse for a blatant cash grab.

And in some cases, that’s fair enough.

Still, if television has taught us anything lately, it’s that there’s nothing inherently inferior or artistically bankrupt about serialized storytelling.

Shows such as “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” for example, have both delivered long-term narratives, told episodically — to great critical acclaim.

Television is built with that kind of longevity in mind. Writers construct a box, kind of like a maze, in which their characters can maneuver through various permutations of the same central premise.

Some showrunners even begin breaking down those walls altogether, opening up new pathways and making the bold decision to allow their series to age gracefully toward its inevitable demise.

It’s harder to apply the same approach to film, which in its purest form has always functioned best as a self-contained narrative with no ulterior motives — i.e. future franchise building.

I’d like to believe that there was once a more innocent time when the majority of sequels were happy accidents, unwitting byproducts of their predecessor’s success.

In the case of something like “Die Hard,” I’m not sure that 20th Century Fox realized that it had a future franchise on its hands. The entire premise — and the appeal of the whole picture, really — is that John McClane is an ordinary New York City police officer who by sheer dumb luck, winds up in a situation way above his pay grade.

It’s the kind of story that you can only tell once.

The fact that John McClaine continues to find himself in calamitous situations far beyond the purview of the NYPD — and survives them — stretches both the character and the original premise — the very thing that makes it “Die Hard” — pretty thin.

Sure, there are some movies that naturally lend themselves to the franchise form. Indiana Jones will always pick up a bullwhip and chase after the next rare antiquity. For James Bond, violence and espionage are literally a part of the job description.

For my money, Pixar is the studio that continues to do it best.

I think it’s because it isn’t so much looking to extend its original formula indefinitely, but draw each of the themes and characters forward to their next logical step.

It is telling one long story 13 years at a time.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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