Reel Talk

Finding Dory and the Mentally Ill

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Sequels are hard everybody. Because up until the Marvel Cinematic Universe started showing us that serialized storytelling can work in the movies. Really no one else other than Marvel has gotten this right, so right now the only option for sequels tend to be the typical format, which is usual just a retelling of the first movie. There’s diminishing returns for these obviously, and things just get worse more often than not. Sequels usually just try to copy the first film and make it bigger and better. Which doesn’t work more often than not. But sometimes sequels work pretty well, even if they stay with this tried and true formula. But to do so, they have to do something special, or say something different. And we have one of these on our hands.

I’ve talked a bit before that I love Pixar movies. I really like Disney in general, but Pixar is basically batting 1000, the Cars movies notwithstanding. And one of their more famous films, Finding Nemo, has a sequel. That seemed wholly unnecessary to me when I heard about it. Because most of the Pixar movies feel like perfect standalone stories that don’t really need anything continued. Especially Finding Nemo. It was a great little fable and ended just where it needed to go. So when I heard they were making a sequel, and one that revolves around a character that I personally didn’t find that engaging, I kind of assumed they were just trying to make some money. They knew that there was a market for more Dory toys and made this movie to sell them. And while that could possibly be true, they at least were able to tell an interesting story, with a really fascinating message.

The plot of the film is pretty simple, we follow our protagonists from the previous movie, the vacuous and amnesiac Dory, the curmudgeon Marlin, and the blank slate Nemo, as they go on an epic quest to find Dory’s parents. The previous movie established that Dory has short-term memory loss, and remembers nothing about her family or background. But in the beginning of this movie, she suddenly gets a flash of a memory, and convinces Marlin and Nemo that they need to traverse the ocean to California, where she believes she grew up. So they run into the stoner sea-turtles from the first movie and head out to California. And once there Marlin gets all pissy at Dory, like he does, and she wanders off, only to find the place of her birth on her own. And it turns out it’s a place called Marine Life Institute, a half-resort/ half-veterinary facility. And wouldn’t you know, some stupid humans grab her out of the water, and bring her on in. And once inside, she runs into the break-out star of the film, Hank the agoraphobic and belligerent septapus. He’s great.

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And the rest of the movie is basically just characters running around this theme park trying to find each other. Hank makes a deal with Dory to help her try and find her parents in exchange for her little tag which will get him on a truck to an aquarium in Cleveland where he won’t be released back into the wild. While Marlin and Nemo are trying to get into the facility to save Dory, with the help of two lazy sea-lions, their creepy friend Gerald, and a psychotic bird named Becky. And that’s kind of it. Dory meets some other sea-life that live in the facility that all have terrible issues while she bonds with good old Hank, and Marlin and Nemo just keep struggling to run into her. And eventually she finds her parents, right outside the facility, and they’ve been there ever since she vanished, never giving up hope. But Dory doesn’t just bail on her new family, because she gets a whole gang together to chase down Marlin and Nemo who have accidentally been put on that truck to Cleveland. And after an insane high-speed chase in an octopus driven truck Dory is returned with both of her families, and Hank, and they get off to make a new life together.

Now, at first I wasn’t that into this movie. My main fears for this film were that it was just going to be a cheap retread of the first movie. And the first act really was that. We had the characters we know and love meet up with some cameos from characters from the first adventure and just heading out into the sea again for some more wacky shenanigans. But once they get to the Institute, things change drastically. It does get a little sillier, what with the fish spending most of their time out of water at that point,which isn’t really a bad thing. The Pixar movies have a whole lot of heart, and this one was no different, but I’m always a fan of them going silly. There are some legitimately great gags in this movie. The previously mentioned Becky and Gerald are particularly great.  The story went it’s own way, did it’s own thing, built on the foundation the first movie made, and ended up telling a new and engaging story. But there’s also something really interesting that starts to build.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Dory as a character. She’s fine, she just never really did much for me, possibly because I’m far too much like Marlin than I’d choose to admit and her shtick wears thin on me. But it became obvious pretty quickly that by putting Dory in the forefront of this movie we were going to have to deal with her amnesia a whole lot more than in the last movie. And when she gets to the facility and starts to find all of these other creatures, with all of their own problems, I started to pick up on some interesting themes this movie was playing around with. How we treat the mentally ill. Which probably sounds crazy, but basically every fish she comes across in this movie has some issue that they’re dealing with, while being kept away from the rest of the population. Both the humans and all the other fish are incredibly put off by Dory. They’re creeped out by her issues, and don’t want to give her the time of day. No one trusts themselves. They’ve been told they’re broken and that they should just remain in these little cells, and that they shouldn’t be released back into the real world. Some of them want to stay in their cells, some want to be free, but no matter what they’re stuck there because they’re told they can’t survive out in the real world. And yet, Dory finds her way home. Her parents don’t send her away, they give her the skills needed to find them, and survive in the world. Dory survives. She makes a new life for herself, and surrounds herself with people who support her. And that’s kind of beautiful. This movie was full of characters with disabilities, and by the end they all find something to do with their life. They aren’t just going to hide themselves away, they learn how to flourish, no in spite of the disabilities, but because of them. And that’s pretty awesome.

Finding Dory was written by Andrew Stanton and Victoria Strouse, directed by Andrew Stanton, and released by Walt Disney Studios, 2016.

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