Friday, July 8, 2016

Finding myself in "Finding Dory"

Just after opening weekend, I eagerly rolled into the theater, preparing to  crush some little children and their popcorn on the way to the wheelchair seats.

Sadly, with the exception of, like, two people, we were the furthest ones forward.

You see, I had been waiting for this moment since before they were born.

Unlike many, I did not see Disney/Pixar's Finding Dory as a sequel competition. I knew that this one would be different. Indeed, it would contain the same brilliant animation seascapes to be expected from Pixar, contrary to popular critiques. It contained enough flashbacks to Finding Nemo to satisfy those who hadn't seen it, or perhaps might have forgotten some things, similar to the title character herself.   Maybe it was because I was so young, and I didn't know better yet, but I didn't really  relate to Nemo and his “little fin.” In the first film, this really was not a central topic.But I knew  this one would expand on the idea of disability and acceptance in a big way, unlike its predecessor.

Unless you've been living under a rock, or perhaps in one as the case may be, you know that Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang fish who has short-term memory loss (I cringed when her parents said she "suffers' from it in the beginning, but this might be more accurate as to how Dory views herself sometimes as she has several panic attacks throughout the movie). She is on a misadventure from school one day when she has a flashback that sends her on yet another epic adventure to find her parents, who she is separated from as an adorable little Baby Dory.

A lot of critics take issue with the fact that this adventure unfolds in much the same fantastical way as Marlin's search for Nemo. But I don't see this as a bad thing. The journey to the Marine Life Institute has enough ridiculous shenanigans and plot twists to sustain just the audience it was intended for: four-year-olds! Bonus points for automated Sigourney Weaver and a cynical septopus with (other) sea creature issues (Ed O'Neill), and you have some fun for the adults, too!

But I will get back to the portrayal of Dory's memory loss. While their language is sometimes questionable, in my opinion, Dory's parents take their very real fear and channel it into a practical approach that acknowledges Dory's challenges and figures out how to deal with them without devaluing her. This is everything my adult self could ever want from parents and educators. I won't give it away, but the part where Dory remembers to follow the shells had me blubbering more than Destiny, the low-vision whale!

There were many other relatable moments, too.  Dory is constantly apologizing for her disability, something I find myself doing so constantly, it becomes a nervous tick. Even though she knows better, she still feels like she is "doing it wrong", a notion usually confirmed by society, either intentionally or not. That experience is so. so. real.

"What Would Dory Do?" There is a point in the film where Marlin and Nemo run out of ideas while looking for Dory.  While trying to think of a solution,  Nemo realizes that this is not how Dory would solve the problem, and it causes the two of them to try a different way of thinking for processing the situation, much like somebody with a sensory disability might do.

 How Dory Interacts with Other Disabled Characters   No matter if Dory is trying to solve her own problem or help one of her friends, she always recognizes them in a positive way and how they can contribute to the situation. This is not to say that this is always cause for positive thinking, but if there is a dangerous situation, rather than being afraid of something she knows nothing about, Dory tries to use her friends to help her save the truck from going to Cleveland, showing the value of interdependence.

 Universal Design While on their quest to stop the truck, there is a scene where Destiny doesn't think she can get on to the bridge because she can jump past the wall. Dory reminds her that in the ocean, there are no walls, and she can swim exactly the way she wants to. This is a well hidden metaphor for inclusion but the world would be so much better if people just understood how creatures coexist in the ocean.

  I'm sure there are many more that I missed, but overall I would give this film a very strong rating for how it presented the main themes of disability and acceptance to children and adults alike. Yeah, some of the plot points might not be interesting but that doesn't stop this from being one of my new favorite movies. So well worth the wait!

 What did you think?

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