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‘Finding Dory’ – An Unexpected Disability Moral

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**This is a user-submitted post by Mary McKeon**

Content warning: In addition to spoilers for Finding Dory, this article and its resources briefly discuss instances of filicide of disabled children and the topic of assisted suicide.

I’ve seen Finding Dory twice now, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it both times, there was a line of dialogue that made me shift in my seat. It occurs just before Dory (as a child) gets separated from her parents and involves her mother worrying about whether or not Dory can make it without them. A perfectly normal thing for a parent to worry about, so what about it made me uncomfortable?

Sadly, we live in a world where the death of a disabled child at the hands of the caretaker is often met with rhetoric that sympathizes with the killer and places the blame on the victim, and often one of the “justifications” for the act is that the caretaker was afraid they would outlive the child, who would have difficulty living independently. Obviously, being a relatively light-hearted family film, Finding Dory wasn’t going to address that, let alone show it as the right thing to do. Just like the appearance of blue puzzle pieces in Inside Out didn’t mean they were giving Autism Speaks or The National Autistic Society a shout-out. But certain images or topics like these may hold a different meaning to the disabled community than they would to someone able-bodied and/or neurotypical.

Which is why it may not have dawned on everyone just how important a movie this is. Yes, Jenny and Charlie worried about Dory. She had a tendency to wander off, and they were understandably afraid it might put her in danger. But they still did everything they could to teach her to be self-sufficient in ways that took her short-term memory loss into account, and that’s the way it should be. Also worth noting is the fact that her disability isn’t treated as an inspiration to others or a character flaw, at least not by the writers. There are characters in the movie whose impatience with her causes them to snap and chastise her for difficulties that she may have inadvertently created, but in the end, they’re the ones who have to learn from it and try to change. Additionally, Dory herself isn’t somehow cured of her disability as part of her character arc. The point is that Dory’s disability doesn’t make her a burden and doesn’t preclude her or her loved ones from being happy.

For once, the disabled character isn’t a tragic figure, and for a family film, especially one that was released the same summer as Me Before You, that’s immensely refreshing. Even if Finding Dory is not quite as good as the original, this is the kind of thing audiences—children especially—need to be exposed to, whether they need to learn to accept and be patient with others or with themselves.

What are your thoughts? Let us know down below!

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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  • Cecelia

    Amen.

  • Ryan Prieto

    I loved the film. I felt the best part of it was Dory’s parents. They were loving, supportive, kind, and patient. But they also had their down moments, feeling the distress which is accompanied with not knowing what the future holds for your special needs child. I loved loved loved this aspect of the film. How nearly everyone left Dory thinking it not their place, or out of their means to be there for her. This movie really articulated some delicate points for having, living, and engaging with special needs people. It also communicated that you should not undercut what they are capable of.

  • I absolutely loved the film for a lot of the reasons you bring up here, it isn’t cynical about disabilities, which in turn give it something to stand proud as a good addition to the original.

  • Baymax

    I haven’t seen it yet, but as an outcast with major Asperger’s syndrome, and I was moved by this article and I know what this feels like.

    Bless every person.

  • SwanburneGirl

    THIS. I agree with what was said in this article 100%, and as someone with autism spectrum disorder, I really like that Finding Dory can be used to teach kids about disabilities. One thing I could really relate to was the montage at the beginning of Dory saying “sorry” to all the different fish she asked to help her- I feel like I’m constantly apologizing for my autism/ADHD/anxiety symptoms, and I think we need to realize that people don’t need to apologize for not being able-bodied/neurotypical. There’s so much more I could say about this, but I’ll just leave it at that. Thank you so much for this article.
    (also, I didn’t notice the blue puzzle pieces in Inside Out! I think that’s cool if it’s a shout-out to the autistic community, but I don’t really like the puzzle piece symbol being used to represent autistic people as most of the time it represents Autism Speaks/the “need to find a cure”. Autism Speaks is horribly ableist- I don’t have time to type up a list of what they’ve done, but a quick Google search could tell you that they’re doing more harm than good for autistic people, and we don’t need to be “cured”- the world needs to learn to accept us as we are. Sorry about the little rant, I just needed to say that.)

    • I’m autistic too, and your point is actually what I was trying to say. Seeing the blue puzzle pieces always makes me uncomfortable when I watch the movie because it reminds me of those organizations, even though I know that wasn’t intentional. I tried to link an article about why the puzzle piece logo is problematic, but I guess it didn’t work when I submitted.

  • I love that they did something like this effectively
    I just saw it today and it was very eye opening and just so sweet to see loving parents just always there to help their child through a disability and her parents are just so sweet and voiced so well, really one of my favorite aspects from the movie
    Definitely enjoyed reading this article on this topic 🙂
    (Also Me Before You, AMAZING!!!)

  • brandon

    I’ve never really seen an animated movie be this forthcoming about disability before.

    The only other instance was How to Train Your Dragon, with the now infamous reveal at the end of the first movie that Hiccup had lost his left leg.

    But instead of retconning it or putting too much focus on it, the franchise had, admirably, made it a part of his character instead of his only defining trait.