In its early 2000s heyday, Pixar received seemingly endless praise for its animated prowess. With the exception of 2015's Inside Out, the studio’s recent direction centers on profiting off of its past successes—a game plan that is economically logical, but often disappointing from a creative standpoint. Recent prequels and sequels such as Monsters University and Toy Story 3 offer no break from banality plot-wise, but Finding Dory stands out as a marker of Pixar's ability to keep its worldwide audience entertained while teaching valuable lessons along the way.
At the film's outset, Dory has a fleeting memory of losing her parents at a young age—the problem, however, is that she cannot remember where or how. The famous father-son clownfish duo Marlin and Nemo agree to help Dory find them, when Dory suddenly yet unsurprisingly wanders away. Unlike its predecessor, the majority of the film does not take place in the great deep blue but the Marine Life Institute, where injured fish are taken in and rehabilitated so they can return to the ocean. Essentially, a similar story unfolds with a somewhat new cast of kooky companions, including a seclusion-driven “septapus” (an octopus who lost a tentacle), a seeing-impaired whale shark, a beluga whale who cannot use his echolocation, and two overly territorial sea lions.
If the inevitable Nemo sequel had to be centered around an original character, Dory the pacific blue tang is certainly not the worst. Quirky humor and adorable demeanor aside, Dory's main trait is her short-term memory loss. Sure, this characteristic is just another goofy aspect of the cartoon fish; however, were she a human, Dory's memory would be viewed as a disability. With this consideration, Dory's persona is one that luckily could be developed past the point of comic relief. When we are introduced to Dory’s parents, for example, we observe the difficulty in raising a child like Dory. On top of trying to teach her all of life’s basics, they are challenged with finding ways for her to remember them. Whenever Dory sees the difficulty in doing so, she becomes frustrated and discouraged, recognizing how limiting her condition can be.
Throughout the film, Dory is seldom confident that she can do anything on her own due to her impaired memory. That may not change by the end, but what does is her understanding that she has qualities most fish could only dream of having. Like Nemo with his "lucky fin," Dory and her friends discover the redeeming qualities they possess despite their missing parts. In this Wizard of Oz-like resolution, Dory reminds us that we all experience the world differently and must be celebrated for our differences. Does that make Finding Dory a particularly necessary film in the Pixar canon? Maybe not, but it is certainly worth the ticket price.