More than any other studio, Pixar knows how to walk the line between entertainment and social awareness in its feature films.
Finding Dory, the sequel to the studio's 2003 hit, Finding Nemo, manages to not only pack in some of the same aquatic comedy that the first one was known for, but also addresses an issue that doesn't get talked about very often: living with a lifelong affliction and being the parents of a child who has to learn to cope with it.
More emotionally devastating than Finding Nemo ever was, Finding Dory uses a series of flashbacks to showcase how Dory got to be the little blue fish we know. While the mechanic can often seem tedious and lazy in films, Pixar makes it work, delivering riveting scenes between Dory and her parents and using her childhood experiences to make us more empathetic to her current plight.
Despite its emotional heaviness, there's still enough humor woven throughout to keep it lighthearted when the movie needs to be. Ty Burrell (Modern Family) as Bailey the beluga whale, for example, is one of the better parts of the movie and delivers some of the best one-liners.
Finding Dory could have been a disappointing sequel to one of Pixar's most beloved films, but instead has turned out to be more than a worthy successor, giving us the full tale on one of the best characters the studio ever created.
More emotionally devastating than Finding Nemo ever was
Finding Dory picks up a year after the events of Finding Nemo, with Dory living a new life as Marlon and Nemo's neighbor. She's happy and loved, but feels like there's still something missing from her life. When she stumbles upon a memory of her parents, however, she decides to go on a journey to cross the ocean to California and find them.
It's one of the most touching and humane aspects of the movie and it's where the film shines brightest. Dory's condition, while used as a punchline for many of the jokes in the film, is also taken seriously and given attention that it didn't receive in Finding Nemo. This isn't just a funny fish who can't remember what she was talking about 30 seconds ago, but a woman struggles to connect with people because of her condition.
While focusing heavily on Dory's condition, Pixar acknowledges that it's a daily struggle, but never makes it seem like Dory can't do certain things because of it. Instead, the movie focuses heavily on Dory's ability to cope with her condition and look past it. It doesn't define her or what she's capable of, it's simply a part of her. In many ways, this similar to the story of Finding Nemo, which followed the eponymous young clownfish as he learned that he was capable of more than he thought, after being separated from his overbearing father. Finding Dory uses the same ideas to showcase Dory's handicap — and her ability to accomplish feats even she thought were impossible.
It doesn't define her or what she's capable of
The film doesn't just focus on Dory, however, and it's made all the better for it. Dory's parents play a large role in the film through the use of flashbacks, and it's through her family that Dory learns the coping mechanisms she needs to get through daily life. Just like Finding Nemo, Pixar takes a look at what it is like to raise a child with a disability, through a parental lens, and it's an incredibly powerful directional move. The recurring scenes between young Dory and her parents are both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and they are what stick with you when the movie is over.
Finding Dory is by no means a lighthearted movie, but there are just enough moments of comedy in it that keep it from being a total emotionally draining experience, and there are also some genuine moments of laugh-out-loud moments of comedy. Ironically, Dory is not the funniest part of the movie — in comparison to Finding Nemo where she definitely was — but luckily there are plenty of new characters that pick up the slack.
It's hard to imagine Finding Nemo needing a sequel, but in terms of delivering on a promise, Finding Dory is more than a worthy successor for Pixar. It's a beautiful, heart wrenching look at the life of someone growing up with a condition they can't shake off and its effect it has on their psyche as well as their family. Even more important, however, is that it reminds us that a person is not defined by their unique limitations, but rather by what they can accomplish.
Finding Dory is a movie about finding hope even in the darkest of places. About learning to love and connect with people even when you previously thought you couldn't. About remembering, even when you don't know where you're supposed to end up, to just keep swimming.