MAJOR SPOILER WARNING FOR THE ENTIRE THING! Also, harsh criticisms against Pixar’s 2015 offerings.
I made it no secret that I hated Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. So, that’s why I didn’t buy into the hype for Finding Dory. I was sure it was going to be disappointing. Still, I got a chance to go to a private screening for it, so I did. And man, I am so glad that I did. Finding Dory–as well as its short, Piper–achieved what Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur could not.
The Good Dinosaur is supposed to be about facing your fears. It tries to convey that message, but mostly comes across as “how many times can we hurt and traumatize this poor little dinosaur?” and made the film unpleasant as a result. Piper, on the other hand, has a good message on facing your fears and finding something beautiful and new out of it, and executes it in a way that is charming and gets its point across without being overly sadistic. There’s also the fact that the character design and the set pieces actually work together (rather than making the backgrounds hyper realistic and making the characters look like plastic toys), which results in making the short much more enjoyable. So I was pretty blown away with that. Plus the short was absolutely adorable too. Then it was time for the full length movie to play.
And oh god, was I in for a ride.
While it’s not QUITE as thrilling or awe-inspiring as the first movie (and I don’t think the animation has anything necessarily NEW to offer, with the exception of Hank the amputee octopus) Finding Dory is still a really intense adventure, with lots of emotion. You really get invested in Dory’s quest to find her parents, and the characters she meets resonate with you pretty strongly as well. What I loved most was just how loving and caring Dory’s parents are, how much they support her and do everything they can to make sure Dory can succeed (take note, parents of neurodivergent and disabled children: THIS is how you raise them). Therefore, when Dory gets reunited with them, it is very rewarding. And it made me cry.
I also loved the climax so much. It was filled with all the spontaneity and creativity and randomness and sheer “screw the rules let’s have an octopus hijack a truck and drive it into the ocean and people will love it” found in classic Pixar and managed to really draw you in.
The whole world is just so vivid and full of life. It actually makes you want to go to the Marine Life Institute. This was so relieving because I find the set pieces of Inside Out so bland and dispassionate (Imagination Land is just a bunch of fries and clouds and cards and imaginary boyfriends. Really?) so to see them put more effort into making the set piece here stand out was refreshing.
But the main reason why Finding Dory is so much better than Inside Out is because of how it handles mental illness.
In Inside Out, Riley is barely in the movie and doesn’t demonstrate a whole lot of autonomy or even personality (besides “I want to go back to Minnesota”) and most of the movie focuses on Joy (who can burn in Hell for all I care) and Sadness (who is genuinely sweet) going on an adventure to get back to Headquarters. Throughout the whole thing, Sadness (who can be seen as a metaphor for a depressed person) is given the short end of the stick (at one point Joy is willing to leave Sadness to die) but never once stands up for herself or says “I don’t need to take this. I am important”. And Joy only becomes nicer to Sadness when she realizes she serves a purpose (not because, you know, all people, especially those who are sad all the time, deserve respect), and doesn’t apologize to her at all. Yikes. And at the end, after Riley vents to her parents, we skip over a year to see her all happy and adjusted, no lingering problems. THIS is the film we’re praising as a beacon of mental health representation? Gross. I don’t accept that.
Finding Dory, on the other hand, actually empowers our mentally ill protagonist and makes her a three-dimensional character. You see her actually struggle with her disability but on her own (without TOO much help) she realizes that while she can’t do EVERYTHING, that doesn’t mean she can’t do ANYTHING. She is able to find her parents, to use her resources to help her, and help save other fish. And when other characters are mean to her, she doesn’t just sit there and take it. She actually calls them out on it! We get to see her be happy, confused, despaired, and overjoyed. I’m so glad that they were able to expand Dory’s character.
Now does the film have problems? Well, yeah. The characters are a little snippy at each other (though they do get sweeter as the film progresses), Bailey the beluga’s echolocation problem gets solved almost immediately for the sake of the plot (and it doesn’t make sense for him to end up in the coral reef, since belugas live in the arctic) and Gerald (the sea lion that is clearly coded to be intellectually disabled) is treated very meanly. I’m not sure why they felt the need to make this character a punchline. I’m just glad he (sort of) gets revenge on his bullies later on, but still. I want a short where Gerald is shown in a better light.
Overall, though? Finding Dory is fantastic, and it certainly deserves the hype it gets.