Finding Dory: A Realist Dis/Ability Narrative
I saw Finding Dory today, and let me first share with you that there is nothing more adorable than a chubby Baby Dory with eyeballs nearly as big as her body. She needs to exist as one of those squeeze toys where the eyes bulge out. My goodness.
The second thing I would like to share with you is how incredibly on fleek the dis/ability narrative was in this movie. We have seen fantastical plots in the past where dis/ability is treated as the locus of coincidences that lead to all manner of improbable adventures and accomplishments: Forrest Gump comes to mind. Although Finding Dory does feature quite a series of coincidences, they are all tied together by a much more empowering narrative: while Forrest Gump's experiences were predicated by coincidence, Dory's are predicated by her active persistence and unflagging optimism. Despite her short term memory loss, she manages to infiltrate a human-operated aquarium, pass through multiple sections, and ultimately (spoilers!) steer a truck into the ocean on purpose all the while working toward reuniting with her parents.
The movie demonstrated several instances of behaviour that can and should be emulated in real life, while paying respect to the fact that many people will still be bottomfeeders toward anyone who behaves a little differently. The most obvious positive example was her own parents, who (apparently without any professional intervention, which makes them even more amazing) encouraged, supported, and coached Dory in developing skills that would mitigate her short term memory loss while empowering her to connect with others and society.
Other positive examples were when random passersby would respond intelligently to Dory's behaviour and adjust their own as soon as they were informed of her short term memory loss. Mr. Ray's school kids also seemed to accept and support her, immediately affirming when she asked if she had repeated herself. There wasn't any judgement exhibited in those fish. On the other fin, some fish did respond fairly poorly, either ignoring her outright or simply fleeing as soon as she exuberantly introduced herself.
Marlin, Nemo's clownfish father, did stand out as an example of someone who can have good intentions but will stumble a lot. Some of it was due to his own personality: a worrier who needs to plan everything. Dory's short term memory loss combined with her carefree attitude naturally caused him a great deal of anxiety, and he tended to respond by discouraging her from trying something, and generally behaved as a restrictive influence. Marlin wasn't all bad - he clearly cared, like so many of us do, and just needed more work on the supportive aspect of his care.
The reason I say this is a refreshingly realist dis/ability narrative is because it demonstrated what I call The Three Responses: one, an ideal environment of accommodation and support; two, unsupportive behaviours and offensive moments; three, unpracticed attempts at support rooted in good intentions. Altogether, those three experiences interspersing each other worked to subtly point out the deeper problem society must confront: Accommodations occur only because society itself is constructed to intrinsically reject and devalue an individual whose abilities and behaviour do not fall within the established norm. Honestly, I think that anyone who hasn't taken a critical course in feminism or disability theory wouldn't pick up on that underlying message. I probably identified it only because I'm already trained to analyze from that perspective, and I fully acknowledge that it's a hard one for some to grasp since it subverts some very fundamental aspects of modern life. Even so, Finding Dory managed to stay on point, driving its message consistently without becoming a continual harangue.
Finally, I would like to share out of sheer respect for the environment: go see the movie! And then actively do not go and buy fish to emulate the movie! Finding Nemo was honestly catastrophic for some of those ecosystems as people went nuts over having clownfish and blue tangs, and I wish Pixar had taken this into consideration and added some sort of explicit message: the in-story message of rescue, rehabilitation, and release may still go over some people's heads.
Finding Dory: A lovely addition to the Pixar Theory.