Finding Dory (dir. Andrew Stanton)

Posted: June 23, 2016 in Uncategorized

“Finding Dory” is about mental illness and people with special needs. Whether we’re dealing with our main character’s short term memory loss, a near-sighted whale, or mentally challenged seals and birds, the message comes across loud and clear that the film is about how difficult it is to both live with an illness or disability (the constant frustration and shame one may feel about not being able to do things “right”), and how difficult it is to love (or, if you’re a parent, to raise) someone with disabilities.  This film could be an invaluable tool to show special needs children that they can be useful and matter, as well to possibly help children feel empathy for those unlike themselves who struggle with challenges outside of their control.


The message and the aims of the film are so good and worthwhile that one can be tempted to praise the film a tad bit more than it deserves. While “Finding Dory” is a very cute and thoroughly entertaining film, it is neither funny enough nor poignant and touching enough to rise into the pantheon of truly great Disney or Pixar films. The animation is gorgeous and the story works well enough, but this is a solid base hit, not a home run.


While it’s been 13 years since “Finding Nemo”, the sequel picks up a mere one year after the events of that film. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) are back to living their normal lives, except that Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) now lives with them. Dory’s mental problem is sometimes a source of annoyance for Marlin and others, but she’s well-meaning and friendly and everyone tries to be accommodating. One day, Dory starts to have flashes of memory, and she remembers she had parents. The film is then a quest for Dory to travel across the ocean to find them. The trip is filled with coincidences, screenplay-enforced luck, basic detective work, and hoping for the best.  The script, by director Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse, plays a bit loose with how Dory’s memory works, by having her remember and forget at times and with a regularity that the screenplay requires without any basic internal logic, and how characters find the clues needed to get from one story point to the next sometimes feel like screenplay cheats, but perhaps that’s just nitpicking.


The bulk of the story takes place at Marine Life Institute, which is part aquarium and part animal hospital. Once there, we meet a delightful supporting cast, including a camouflaging octopus who steals many scenes he’s in, Hank (Ed O’Neil), the aforementioned near-sighted whale, Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) , a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) and more. It’s an interesting setting to place the film in, and it allows for a number of cool set pieces involving how our mainly aquatic characters are able to travel from one part of the institute to another despite their obvious handicaps in traveling.


It should be said that Dory is far less annoying in this film than in “Finding Nemo”, and that may be because we feel more for her as a character and how terrible it must be to have a debilitating mental handicap that you can’t do anything about, no matter how hard you try or want to be free of it. The film does a good job of making you not just feel sympathy for her, but feel empathy, and realize that it would really be tough if you, as a viewer, had to suffer through something similar.


If the film falters a bit, it is to what extent it argues in favor of the mentally disabled being allowed certain levels of autonomy.  While Dory ultimately prevails when she’s left alone, it remains the fact that having been left to her own devices earlier in life (and at other times) results in her detriment a lot more than her benefit.  If she gets lucky once, great, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she shouldn’t have supervision during most of the time. I was somewhat reminded of the film “I Am Sam”, which tried to get the audience to believe that a severely mentally challenged man should keep sole custody of his daughter.  Since, in that film, it was very obvious that an adult man with the IQ of a 4 year old should not raise a child by himself, it left the audience at odds with the film. “Finding Dory” doesn’t go that far, but it may unintentionally be arguing to let the mentally handicapped or otherwise special needs persons to have a great level of autonomy because everything will work out for them in the end if you trust in them, and that message is naive and dangerous for some of them, even if it has a well-meaning goal of trying to not portray the mentally disabled as drooling goons who can’t do anything for themselves, as many films do.


“Finding Dory” is not going to be a classic. I perhaps liked it more than last year’s “Inside Out”, which was a bit more ambitious than this sequel that follows the formula of the first film fairly closely, but this isn’t Pixar or Disney’s best work. It has a good message and may prompt useful discussions between parents and children (and parents of special needs children may get the biggest cry of all if they see themselves or their children in the film’s characters) , but it’s not original enough or funny enough to raise it to a higher echelon, and the screenplay feels a bit too contrived at times to get the characters to do and act and remember the way the plot requires them to. B


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