Finding Nemo, which at one time was the highest-grossing animated movie ever, marked the beginning of a seven-year stretch of nearly flawless movies that made Pixar the most prestigious company in the business. Thirteen years later, we have a sequel. Finding Dory—the premise of which is based on a single line of dialogue from the original film—begins with a nearly identical idea to the original—the search for family. This time around it is Dory’s family instead of Marlin’s, and the search takes a different, but welcome, direction.
Dory’s most recognizable feature, aside from unwavering optimism, is her short-term memory loss. This characteristic was a source of humor in the original, but here its implications are taken much more seriously. As a child, Dory’s parents worried about her ability to survive outside their care, and rightly so. In classic Disney fashion, she is traumatically separated from her family. A year after her adventure with Marlin and Nemo, Dory begins to have flashbacks to her childhood and decides to use these pieces to find her parents. Thus, our heroes are off on another whirlwind adventure, this time including British seals, a near-sighted whale shark, a chatty clam, and “the voice of Sigourney Weaver.”
Though a ton of ocean fun, Finding Nemo was permeated with a profound sense of loss. That is here too, but with an added layer of realism. Dory’s handicap is the central emotional force of the story. Like parents of children with autism or physical disabilities, Dory’s mom and dad find alternative means to help her remember things, like songs and special objects. Perceiving that she like seashells, they create a small path back to their den, so Dory can find her way when lost. Marlin, however, is dismissive of his friend, believing her totally incapable of the task ahead. Yet time and time again, Dory proves him wrong, not just by her determination but the subconscious memories planted through these techniques.
Once she discovers her parents may be in a Californian rehabilitation aquarium, Dory befriends Hank, a disillusioned octopus voiced by Ed O’Neill. A close cousin of Grumpy Cat, Hank does not want to return to the ocean and agrees to help Dory in exchange for a trip to a permanent exhibit in Cleveland. He harbors a deep fear of the outside world and all other beings, wanting to be in a place “where nobody can touch you.” Unlike Dory, Hank is extremely mobile and resourceful, able to slime quickly across the ground, camouflage into anything, and swing from pipe to pipe like Tarzan. Dory sees that he is broken, just like her; his paralyzing phobia prevents him from living a healthy life and connecting with others. This journey will bring him “home” as well.
I’ll leave it up to the viewer to discover whether Dory in fact finds her parents, but this is not really the point. In an amazing coincidence (or perhaps not), Finding Dory is in theaters at the same time as Me Before You, a piece of pro-euthanasia propaganda masquerading as a romance movie. Dory presents an alternative lesson. Yes, those who are disabled can present difficulties and require methods of learning and living that seem foreign to the rest of society. Their differences do not change the fact that they possess the dignity and deserve the love Christ commands we show all people.
Finding Dory is a delightful treat: fun and adorable if a little predictable. Nearly every parent will cry at some point in this movie, a few quite a bit more than others, I suspect. If you see this at the theater, pray for them. If you are friends, hug them.
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Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online at his website, Catholic Cinema Crusade.