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Finding Dory (2016); And Pixar’s Handling of Mental Health

June 20, 2016

findingdory56e083961b31dI began taking swim lessons for the first time ever last month. I finally decided that I was done living a life where I only wade in pool waters and get barely knee-deep in ocean water. I finally developed the will to learn to swim for once and for all. Time has passed and I’m only a moderately decent swimmer. I still have a few more lessons that allowances won’t grant me at the moment before I can confidently call myself a swimmer. I’m currently more of a glider able to skim across the surface of water occasionally with an independent stroke or two if I’m facing a wall or stopping point. My fear of swimming is due to a mental barricade, one that developed in childhood and has been very difficult to chip away at. Making my way across water can only be done so confidently with a particular tune on repeat in my head, “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

Finding Nemo’s breakout star, Dory, taught me, and a world of others, a very fundamental element of getting through any ordeal in life: just keep swimming. This is how I get myself from one end of a pool to the other. This is how I’ve convinced myself to preserver through not so pleasant moments. All because 13 years ago Pixar created one of the most lovable characters in animation; a blue tang fish marred by her short-term memory. One who still manages to bring joy and optimism to any situation because it’s just in her very nature to do so.

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When Finding Dory was originally announced as a sequel to Finding Nemo, I was immediately reticent. There was no way a sequel could match the greatness of Finding Nemo. Surely, Finding Dory was only a cash grab like so many other films clamoring to make their millions first and produce actual substance or heart later. My initial judgment may have been harsh, but not too far off from expectations sake as previous (and possibly future) Pixar sequels can attest to. Thankfully, Finding Dory excels its duty as a sequel and becomes an admirable companion piece to Finding Nemo. It feels organic and brings Dory into new a level of inspiration and wonder.

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It has been one year since the events of Finding Nemo and Dory finds herself living happily with her friend’s Marlin and Nemo. She even attends Nemo’s classes with Mr. Ray every day. Only when Mr. Ray’s class learns about family origins does Dory’s haphazardly short-term memory breaks the cycle of forgetting. She remembers that she too has a family and came from somewhere. But where? Dory becomes rushed with memories of her childhood remembering that she’s always been on a mission to find her parents, she just forgot. Dory becomes hell-bent on a reunion while new friends and old help her embark on a life-changing journey.

Dory is perhaps one the most lovable characters in recent film history, which is owed mostly to Ellen DeGeneres who gives Dory a piece of her own charm. DeGeneres has become synonymous with Dory, fusing her amiable personality so well into the character that the two seem one in the same. Dory’s sweet, kind-hearted nature gets amplified during flashback scenes where we watch Dory as a doe-eyed child with a bad memory, but infectious zest for life. She means well hating to impose and inconvenience people due to her own shortcomings. The heavy focus on family and community begins with the flashbacks of Dory’s precious childhood before branching out to show how others in the past and present are willing to help Dory when she needs it.

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While Finding Dory’s message on the importance of working together simplistically shines through, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable by the undertone of exploitation due to mental disabilities. There are a number of characters that openly take advantage of and taunt characters with deficiencies. There’s the seal, Gerald, that gets verbally abused for comedic relief along with a mentally unbalanced loon that gets taken advantage of by any character who knows how to imprint themselves and benefit from her. I was disturbed and a bit disappointed by these moments which felt cruel and unnecessary to the story. Nevertheless, there are moments here and there when these actions cause the characters who manipulate others to look inward or get called out about themselves.

For a moment, Dory’s amnesia becomes an encroaching burden on Marlin. Nemo is there to remind Marlin, and perhaps more viewers, to have faith in others and let go of the attempt to control everything. I wish that Finding Dory would have explored these moments of mean-spiritedness or manipulation of mentally unstable characters a bit more, but alas it’s not up to Pixar to save the world. Or is it? Finding Dory most definitely has weak elements and parts that could have used pruning, like the hundreds of plot twists and silly conundrums that continue to unravel.Nevertheless, Finding Dory is an adorably hilarious film that gives focus to these difficult topics in ways not seen in children’s films.

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Finding Dory manages to stay entertaining and emotionally cathartic. While I want to say that it drops the ball on an opportunity to remind audiences of the importance of acceptance, it, in fact, does a phenomenal job reminding audiences to trust themselves and share trust with others as well as the importance of working together. Those who love and embrace Dory constantly attempt to build her confidence. They remind her that she can do things she isn’t even aware that she can. Dory’s loved ones work past her limitations, instead showcasing the very strengths in them. This acts as a very important reminder to our current divided, separatist reality.

SEE IT. Then assess the way you handle those with disabilities. 

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2016 11:30 AM

    Great post. I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’ll be seeing it today or tomorrow. I’ll keep what you said in mind regarding mental illness; however, I guess because of the target audience, you need a little comedic relief here and there. Not trying to justify this, but I haven’t seen it to really comment.

    “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” ….my high school motto being on the swim team. Varsity swimming killed my love for this leisure time.

    • June 22, 2016 1:12 PM

      I know you’ll enjoy the hell out of it. It’s so cute! And I agree, I definitely don’t knock them for using characters as comic relief because ultimately its for the babes. I think they did a fairly good job of balancing the heavier issues and keeping it lighthearted. Would love to hear your opinion when you see it. If you don’t review it, please let me know what you think!

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