​Rarely does a film sequel exceed high expectations, let alone surpass the original movie it is based on.

“Finding Dory” is one of those sequels.

More than a decade after the release of Pixar’s Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo,” the Disney-owned company returns with a nearly flawless follow-up and prove that oftentimes the best sequels are the ones that studios take the extra time to get right.

Dory, a loveable blue tang fish with short term memory loss, heads across the Pacific Ocean in search of the parents she forgot one year following the events of “Nemo.” When she loses her way and is captured by a California aquarium, her clownfish friends Marlin and Nemo must come to her rescue and help Dory reunite with her family.

Though the plotline is a little bit on the nose given its incredibly similar narrative to the first film, “Dory” is otherwise a perfect family-friendly animated film and surprisingly improves on “Nemo” at nearly every turn.

With more of the spotlight on Dory this go-round, Ellen Degeneres is spectacular voicing the charming, yet aloof star and elevating the material from writer/director Andrew Stanton to the next level. More than a decade later, Degeneres’ vocal performance in “Nemo” is still the main highlight of one of Disney/Pixar’s most iconic film and she’s even better in an expanded role.

Many critics have argued for the inclusion of a voice performance in acting category nominations at the annual Academy Awards and few efforts seem more perfect for honoring than Degeneres. The way she is able to infuse Dory with wonder, confusion, heart, humor and life simply by reading words on a page is remarkable. 

Voice actors have the seemingly impossible task of bringing a story to life without benefit of seeing the scene they’re acting in, with animators designing each character around a pre-recorded vocal performance. Dory’s visual demeanor, attitude and vibrancy on screen is equally attributable to Degeneres’ imagination and acting. No voice actor has been more instrumental to the overall success of their film than Degeneres to “Nemo” and “Dory.”

Albert Brooks returns to voice Dory’s fatherly friend Marlin, while Hayden Rolence takes over the part of Nemo from Alexander Gould, whose voice has deepened since “Finding Nemo” premiered in 2003. Neither character is as fully developed in “Dory” as Stanton rightly focuses most of the storyline on Dory’s quest and introduces several new characters to the mix.

“Dory” also sports an impressive supporting cast including Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy as Dory’s parents, Kaitlin Olson as a near-sighted whale shark and Ty Burrell as a beluga whale. Veteran television star Ed O’Neill voices disgruntled octopus Hank, who begrudgingly forms a friendship with Dory. 

Among the newcomers to the film, O’Neill stands out as the highlight, perfectly matching Degeneres step for step as Hank and Dory make their way through the aquarium. Pixar gives Hank a chameleon-like ability to blend into any background, which stands as the most visually impressive part of a stellar cinematic experience.

“Finding Dory” is also buoyed by what is likely to be next year’s Academy Award winner for best animated short with “Piper,” the most visually stunning piece of animation in years.

“Piper” follows a baby sandpiper bird learning about water along a beach, something that doesn’t in and of itself seem all that remarkable. The true brilliance of “Piper” is when audiences realize that they’re watching animation and not something filmed by Disneynature. The short’s director, Alan Barillaro, spent years fine-tuning flawlessly realistic animation of the tiny sandpiper with additional care taken to every feather. “Piper” pairs amazingly well with “Dory” to create a sublime movie going experience.

Well worth the price of admission, “Finding Dory” is sure to be an iconic animated film on the same level as “Finding Nemo” before it and should be the front-runner to take home the Academy Award for best animated film over Disney’s “Zootopia” and a promising slate of family-friendly films still to be released later this year.

Ordering tickets online well in advance of show time is highly recommended as “Dory” is going to be one of those films audiences return to see multiple times in theaters, especially families with small children. An instant classic, “Finding Dory” is more than your typical kids’ movie and a must-find for moviegoers of all ages.

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