Finding Dory Stands On Its Own as a Marine Lost & Found Tale
"Dory" sparks viewers of all ages to care about human-animal interactions, such as pollution and aquarium touch tanks
July 25, 2016
Thirteen years ago, a six-year-old girl screamed and ran out of the movie theater into painfully broad sunlight because an Australian Great White Shark with a magnificent grin had smiled across the big screen and said "Hallo."
Thirteen years later, that girl clipped breathlessly through throngs of Santa Monica tourists to reach the theater in time for the 10:20 am showing of "Finding Dory," the long-awaited sequel to "Finding Nemo." This time, though, I was more afraid of being locked out of the theater due to lateness as opposed to a fictional or even a real shark (who should probably be afraid of me as humans massacre millions of sharks per every single shark attack on a human – just a side note.)
The Santa Monica Place is a metropolitan worm-snail maze comprised of three semi-outdoor levels of cult-only shops and exotic food samples. Wandering inside, I felt how Marlin must have in the first movie as he followed Dory's sporadic genius across the treacherous ocean. My dad's phone steered us in a meandering route that he insisted I follow, while the minutes to 10:20 were slimming with each false herring. But luckily, I finally made it into ArcLight Cinemas, where the ticket checker smirked at my choice. "You want to see the movie?" he asked, hardly keeping a laugh from exploding his Adam's apple. Maybe he recognized me from that old "Finding Nemo" incident? Anyway, I quickly navigated away from him and found my seat in the dead-empty theater number three.
By the time my heart rate had slowed and the pathological fear of being lost/late wore off, a few more viewers had straggled into various seats. Glad to have company, I gamely pressed my forefingers to my anti-tragus as movie theater volume levels are known to damage hearing.
The séance commenced with a Pixar short delineating the coming-of-age process of an endearing baby sandpiper learning to dig clams for itself. Judging by "Piper's" almost palpable texture-rendering, coupled with the humorous plot and wordless feel-good message, I expected the feature film to be comparably awesome. It did not disappoint.
If you've seen the trailers, you might think the plot of "Finding Dory" was just copied, pasted and tweaked a little from the original "Finding Nemo" spreadsheet (father loses his son, who learns self-confidence as father adventures across ocean burdened by an unreliable escort). While the fundamental questions of losing, finding and what makes a family were asked and answered in much the same way in both movies, the "Finding Dory" plot stands on its own as well as explaining many oft-overlooked mysteries introduced in the original classic.
Basically, without any spoilers, Dory is beginning to feel useless in Marlin and Nemo's world, largely due to Marlin's thoughtless contempt.
Meanwhile, her rickety memory begins dropping clues about her tender and roughly cut-off childhood, reminding her that she lost her loving parents years ago. She has been searching for them on some level ever since, but her memory of that goal became so garbled she'd inadvertently taken a hiatus to be Marlin's wife/second kid. Now, the trio sets off on a journey to find Dory's parents, but Marlin's anxiety over taking risks and his impatience with Dory lead the regal blue tang to set off on her own and end up at the Marine Life Institute's quarantine center. While Dory and her shifty new friend Hank the octopus battle within the complexities of their conflicting escape plans (and moreover their very human relationship), Marlin and Nemo encounter fun new animals and learn that there is in fact a place in their lives for Dory's craziness, and a place in Marlin's habits for taking crazy risks in the name of family love.
"Finding Dory" dares to vary the setting more than the themes of the original story. Through this, the filmmakers help spark viewers of all ages to care about human-animal interaction issues, such as pollution, aquarium touch tanks, marine life rehabilitation centers, celebrity overlords. This plot is structured on the same old premise of a misunderstanding that begets physical separation and requisites a swashbuckling solution, but it takes these plot points above sea level and deeper into the human world. More deeply than the Pixar-ized human extras, the sea creature characters expose the humanity that people of all walks of life contain in their psyches and struggle to channel positively every day. From Hank's web of motives and fears, to the heartbreaking apathy of passerby fish, to Dory's panic as she loses her friends, her way, and, she fears, what's left of her cognitive capacity – all of these characters exhibit true-to-life psychological and social realities.
Personally, I was most profoundly moved by the many scenes where Dory is hindered by directional challenges (can't remember routes, easily becomes lost, doesn't remember place names, has no innate sense of direction). My own experience the same morning, rushing haphazardly in search of the theater to catch this show, is just one example of the oppression I face every day, an urban human lacking an internal compass. In fact, after the end credits, I realized I was the last to leave the theater. Both exits looked the same, and I wasn't sure which was correct – I even searched in vain for a nonexistent third exit. Custodial voices down one exit's hallway roused a familiar fear of ridicule in my mind, but I just kept going and asked the theater employees if I was on the right track. I was, but I could see their funny-cheese smiles rating me as a bit of a ditz. I walked on.
Outside the theater, I realized I was blocks from the ocean. I could never miss a chance to gaze at this real treasure that is so stunningly, intriguingly portrayed in what I hope will be a duo of movies that inspire future generations with empathy for marine ecosystems. I turned the corner and continued steadily up the street. At least, like Dory, I knew my way back to the sea.