Movies have always helped convey important messages to audiences around the world, and Disney (specifically, Pixar) has always successfully delivered those messages in a beautifully colorful way. Maybe I’m just a Disney movie fanatic, but I could not wait for Finding Dory to premier despite my usual concerns about sequels. I’ve been working with the American Autism Association for over 3 1/2 years now. Working with parents and children with special needs has shifted my worldview during this time. Little did I know it would also shift the way I watch movies. Finding Dory was no exception to that, and here’s why:
1. Dory is a special needs child and her parents are special needs parents. Although in Finding Nemo Dory’s memory loss is depicted in a light hearted way, Finding Dory explores her memory loss in a whole new light. Finding Dory shows a very real experience of what it’s like to raise a child with special needs, shining a light on the emotional difficultly both children and parents feel.
2. Finding Dory shows us that disabilities* are speed bumps in life. Not only does Dory have memory loss; but her whale shark friend, Destiny, is near-sighted; Bailey a beluga whale has seemingly no echo location ability; Hank, a spirited octopus she encounters has only seven tentacles; Gerald, a sea lion that has a quirky look, doesn’t seem to fit into the main sea lion crowd; Becky, a bird that struggles to make eye contact but once she does – she’s hooked; then of course, Nemo with his little fin. Each character has their own disability (visible or not) that contributes to both the strengths and obstacles of their personality. These characters offer a way for both children and adults to relate to on screen characters that also have special needs, something that is not often shown in movies. *Now, I am not a fan of the word disability because of the stereotypes that comes along with this label (or any label). But for Dory and her friends, I love that they surpass their obstacles and basically crush the stereotypes that usually accompany the word “disability”. Don’t dis their abilities!
3. Words hurt. For all of us Finding Nemo fans out there, we know Marlin can be a little bit of a drag, worry-wort, and has quite the temper. At one point in Finding Dory, he says some hurtful things to Dory in a moment of stress. The entire theater, both young and old, let out a big “awhhh” at Dory’s wide-eyed sad face. Words hurt, and that’s a message we can’t stop spreading to audiences all over the world. Being mean isn’t okay. Bullying isn’t okay. Finding Dory will show you why.
4. How will she make it in life? This is a question all special needs parents ask themselves. There’s a heartbreaking moment where Dory overhears her parents crying, and sneaks over to hear what’s going on. How will she make it? Dory struggles throughout the movie with self doubt due to her memory loss, and constantly questions her ability to act independently. People ignore her, laugh at her, and doubt her. However, with a strong and supportive team behind her she has the ability to triumph over her fears and reach her goals.
5. Sometimes parents need to think creatively to adjust to their child’s needs of learning. I can’t express this more. Not every child can learn the same way. Children with autism oftentimes need a creative flavor added to their lessons for the message to sink in. Dory’s parents make an active effort in teaching Dory to overcome her memory loss by using props that she enjoys, or practicing scenarios together. Notice how supportive Dory’s parents are. They are always encouraging. Although Dory gets swept away and enters a life of adventures that she may not recall, the kind words of her parents still stuck with her and help her overcome any obstacles she faced.
6. Dory’s parents encourage Dory to be transparent about her disability. We heard it in Finding Nemo and boy, will you hear it in Finding Dory. Dory’s parents #1 message was for Dory to tell people about her specials needs. Dory skips the judgement and tells people straight out – “I have short term memory loss”. Now that is an awareness message! Matter of fact, each of the characters listed above are very open with the differences they have and the obstacles they face. This openness welcomes space for people to enter and help, support, and encourage you through the tough times.
As I said, I’ve been working in this community for over 31/2 years now, and I couldn’t help but think of how this movie will touch the hearts of others in our community. I would highly recommend taking your family to see Finding Dory, as it will be truly unforgettable.