It is difficult to go into a film released by Pixar Animation Studios without abnormally high expectations. While not every single one of their films is an outright classic, they have had only one full-blown misfire in their filmography with "Cars 2." Even though these are basically categorized as animated films for children, Pixar has taken an almost gleeful approach to emotionally devastating the adults in the audience.
Films like "Toy Story 3," "Up," and "Inside Out" were able to expertly push buttons that "grown-ups" weren't even paying attention to. "Toy Story 3" and "Inside Out" in particular deconstructed growing up with such profound and beautiful clarity that many people over 30 shed a multitude of tears for a childhood left behind and ultimately forgotten. As the kids in the audience marvel at the gorgeous animation and colorful characters, their parents sit dumbfounded, having received closure for something they didn't know they needed.
"Finding Dory" takes several intensely serious thematic ideas and weaves them around another colorful and delightful children's story. Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) from "Finding Nemo" still suffers from short-term memory loss, but has a brief flash of a memory of her parents. She is desperate to find them, realizing that she must have gotten separated from them as a child and then completely forgot about their existence.
Dory teams up with Nemo and his father Marlin to hunt down the mother and father she barely remembers. They travel across the ocean together, learning lessons and getting into trouble. A huge chunk of the film takes place at the Marine Life Institute in Morro Bay, Cali., as Dory, Nemo, and Marlin follow the subtlest trail to a family she barely knows. The whale sharks, octopi, sea lions and beluga whales they meet along the way add a lot of (mostly childish) comedy to the film, but the real draw of the movie is the dramatic themes that drive the story.
Pixar films always come with a handy life lesson built into the structure, and Dory is no different. But the lesson here comes with more dramatic weight than usual. Dory absolutely has a learning disability, one that has hobbled her life into a series of moments with barely any connecting tissue that would give her days a narrative to hold onto. She is happy, but only because she forgets everything she has lost along the way.
By the end of the film, Dory has two giant realizations. One is that she has to accept her limitations for what they are, but also that she can use them to her own advantage. Children with learning disabilities will see this movie and find a very specific hero: one that exists just for them.
The movie isn't perfect. The constant barrage of jokes based around Dory forgetting things all the time runs thin quite quickly, and the film has two or three climaxes too many, but so much of it works regardless. Pixar has created a universe of films that give kids a way to express emotions they might not have the vocabulary for, and it gives adults a chance to see a piece of themselves that they, like Dory, might have forgotten.
Dir. Andrew Stanton
Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX