I never thought a movie about animated fish would make me cry so much. But then again, not all fish are Dory, the charming protagonist of Finding Dory, Pixar's sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo. Although the movie is intended to be a follow-up, Finding Dory holds its own 13 years after its predecessor debuted and anchored itself in the hearts of then-10-year-olds like me. As an adult, I discovered a new appreciation for the characters of my favorite Pixar film.
Finding Dory is a deeply emotional film, tackling complex concepts that might fly over the heads of most kids in the theater. The film reintroduces audiences to Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a blue tang fish with severe short-term memory loss who lives in the Great Barrier Reef with her clown-fish pal, Marlin (Albert Brooks), and his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), who is more her friend than adopted fish-son.
During a routine field trip with Nemo's schoolmates (ha!), Dory begins having flashbacks of her long-forgotten parents who she remembers only after bashing her head. Clinging onto that forgotten but still treasured memory, Dory and Nemo convince worrywart Marlin to cross the ocean again—this time to a marine park in Morro Bay, California.
While Dory's forgetfulness was generally a punch line in Finding Nemo, it becomes the focal point of this film. In doing so, Finding Dory is able to question the definitions of family and, even more importantly, the boundaries of ability and disability.
Throughout the film, I found myself identifying with Dory—who, again, is an animated fish—a little too much. This became especially apparent as Dory got herself into a number of predicaments that would be the nightmare of any person (or fish) struggling with mental-health issues. As an adult who has daily battles with anxiety, I watched Dory do what I have done to myself thousands of times: tear herself down for her self-perceived incompetence, self-sabotage her creative ways of thinking, and repeatedly apologize to everyone around her for feeling as though she was being a nuisance when she really just needed help.
The film's strong suit is showing that Dory—with a little help from her friends—is capable of navigating uncharted waters. Yes, Finding Dory introduces younger audiences to difficult topics like mental health, but the film also brings viewers on a gorgeously animated adventure. Finding Dory, after all, is for the kids. And kids like to be entertained—and not freaked out or confused or saddened.
The film introduces a host of new friends, too. Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark, Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale, and Hank (Ed O'Neill), a curmudgeonly octopus, all help Dory, Marlin, and Nemo find the blue tang's long-lost but not entirely forgotten parents.
In true family-film fashion, Finding Dory draws on impossibly fantastical antics and situations, as well. To name just a few: Hank the octopus swinging from an aquarium's rafters, Marlin and Nemo jumping through rooms of fish tanks, and there is even a car chase (it happens on land—but don't ask me how). Even the moments of pure puerility—which almost solely involve a deranged sea lion with a unibrow—don't fail to get the giggles out of you.
While Finding Dory is not the action-packed adventure its predecessor was, it's more of a triumph than Finding Nemo.