Saturday, June 25, 2016

Opinion: 'Finding Dory' Does Not Negate Its Message


I'm seeing an awful lot of comments around Twitter, and whole articles on a certain issue concerning Pixar's latest great...

Apparently Finding Dory shoots its message about disabilities and embracing disabilities in the foot.

Why's that?

Well, before we get there...

Spoilers ahead, obviously.

Finding Dory is mainly about Dory coming to terms with her short-term memory loss, a condition that could be seen as a "setback" by others. As someone with a disability - Asperger's syndrome, I know how this feels. Sometimes your disability could be viewed by others as something that hinders your life or others' lives. An unfair assumption. I see it sometimes, a parent could look at another parent of a child with a disability, and act as if that child's life is somehow a lot worse than other kids' lives. Sometimes they act condescendingly towards the parent(s), a sort of "oh it must be so hard for you" attitude.

There are several scenes in Finding Dory where characters react to Dory's dilemma. Marlin, in the first act after Dory inadvertently lures a giant squid towards the trio, tells Dory - in a fit of anger - that forgetting things is the only thing she's good at. This is a stone-cold insult, and I felt it was quite gutsy for Pixar to even go as far as putting such an exchange in there. That's the last thing Marlin should've said to Dory, but he said it anyways. Sometimes we say horrible things out of anger, and I'm glad the film didn't sugarcoat that. Throughout the film, Nemo continuously reminds him of this, so Marlin betters himself as the story progresses and in turn realizes how brilliant Dory can actually be.


In another sequence, we see Dory's parents - after so much frustration in trying to help their daughter - crying about how they're going to deal with her short-term memory loss, another true-to-life moment that really hits home. No one with an issue like that should be viewed as a burden, though I'm sure some parents out there with children with various cases have had days like those. It's not out of spite, but it's still a sad, hurtful action. It's a very complicated situation, and the film shows that whether you have an issue or you're related to someone with the issue, you ultimately should pull through and make the most of life. Again, Finding Dory - like any good animated family film - has the guts to even go that far. Growing up, there were some days where I wondered to myself... Is my condition a problem? Was it ever a big problem? Has it hurt others around me? Does it make life harder for me and my loved ones?

The film is about celebrating your disability and working with it, showing that your life doesn't have to be hindered by it, and that it shouldn't have to be looked at as a forever-problem. There is another way, it's a story with such a glass half-full mentality. A film this positive exists, and I'm more than happy for it... Especially coming after Me Before You, a gimmicky and insulting romantic drama based on a book that ends where a disabled man commits suicide, "freeing" his significant other from the "burden" that he apparently is. Now is that a message you want to send?

Finding Dory is a rare work of big mainstream entertainment that portrays the disabled in a very positive manner, and doesn't treat them like sideshow exhibits like some other media does. Destiny and Bailey add to this too, as they discover what they're capable of as well... But we see that non-disabled folk in the movie have issues too and aren't perfect. Marlin's still a bit on the unsure side after the events of Finding Nemo, Hank is too scared to go back to the ocean, and so on. It's nuanced, it's direct, it's true-to-life. It's a wonderful film and a more than worthy sequel to Pixar's 2003 masterpiece...

So, what's the problem? How does the film inadvertently negate all of what I just went over?

To the opposing voices... The problems lie in two characters: Gerald and Becky.


In the film, Gerald is a rather silly-looking sea lion that's always trying to get on the rock that Rudder and Fluke perch themselves atop of. They always force him off time and time again, because... Well... That is their rock, and I think the joke is, Gerald keeps trying to take it. Like an annoying, determined little bugger. During the fun post-credits scene, this is implied once more. The sea lions go back to sleep, and he peaks up from them, snickering quietly. Gerald is clearly unscathed from being forced off of the rock, too. I got the sense that he was just a little troll.

To others, the film is condoning bullying of people who are different or have problems. Ummm... Gerald has problems? Gerald has a disability? Gerald is some sympathetic outcast? Where was that written or said in the movie? As far as I know, Bob Peterson came up with the character during a session, as he comes up with goofy characters like that. Goofy characters are a staple in American animation, heck we even have a dim-witted Disney icon named Goofy! Disney's full of them... Dopey, Gideon, Ed, I can go on for hours...

I think Gerald is nothing more than just one of those goofball animated characters, and the two sea lions get on him simply because he keeps trying to take their rock. I think it's nothing more than that.


Then there's Becky, an animalistic loon who isn't much different from the seagulls in the first film. Becky is certainly not all there, but so what? If anything, Becky plays an important part in the story and is a lot of peoples' new favorite Pixar character. The scenes where Marlin tries to communicate with her are gold, as are several moments. They don't really bully her, even. Sure Marlin makes a crack about her, but that's probably more a comment on the situation rather than Becky's "setbacks".

In all, I think it's people just reaching.

Finding Dory is a wonderful film with such a great message, and I don't think the conversation should divert from that over something that one viewer or two found "offensive". There's always going to be that person, or small group. They'll find something that they think is a jab or inadvertent insult. As far as I know, and I saw the film, Finding Dory doesn't condone bullying different people or ridiculing them. As far as I know, it happens to have a character who comically annoys two other characters (or hey, maybe the joke could be "The two seal lions are jerks!") and another character who seems like an unlikely ally at first.

I'm all for analysis of animated family entertainment, but this to me is pure "reading too much into it". In a way, I'm actually kind of insulted. Here, people like me get a film we've been waiting for, only for some people to say "Well actually, here's something bad that it's doing..." Who are these people to "speak" for us? Do our views matter? Finding Dory delighted me, as someone who has a disability and was bullied when I was younger. I know it's all subjective, but I didn't see what some of those people saw, and quite frankly... It shouldn't even be an issue if you ask me.

Let's keep talking about what this film does right, please.

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