The one thing that Dory remembers is that she can’t remember. During a flashback in Finding Dory, Pixar’s follow-up to 2003's Finding Nemo, we discover it was always this way, via a baby Dory with thick eyelids and red eyes that made her look like the cutest widdle stonder who ever took bong rips through gills. “I suffer from short-term remembery loss,” she tells the other fish. And then she says it again because she can’t remember that she just said it.
As a result of her condition, Dory repeatedly repeats herself throughout Finding Dory, which makes the movie, directed by Nemo’s Andrew Stanton, a bit of a slog. Not even a comedian with the delivery acumen of Ellen DeGeneres, who provides Dory’s voice, can breathe charm into the amount of repetition and exposition that Dory’s short-term memory loss necessitates. “What were we talking about again?” wonders Dory during a discussion about her imminent journey to find her parents. “Mommies and daddies,” responds a friend. “Why were we talking about mommies and daddies?” she asks. Jesus Christ, Dory, nothing matters, who cares!!!
The frustration this movie provokes, though, could provide an inroad to empathy—Finding Dory conveys challenges that result from living with a learning disability. If this movie is dreadfully annoying at times, well, you can easily imagine how it is to live without being able to form new memories. That’s a real burden considering Dory’s quest across the sea to reunite with her real parents, from whom she was separated at a young age. Memories of their whereabouts come trickling back in a stream that is not entirely logical but that keeps the plot swimming along as it must to appeal to its target demographic of today’s youth, whose attention spans are so anemic that they may empathize with Dory’s condition way before the movie bludgeons them over the head with it.
Dory’s journey leads her to the Monterey Marine Life Institute, a public aquarium that avoids the baggage of the culturally maligned SeaWorld by emphasizing its mission to return its captive sea life to the ocean once it is rehabilitated. There, Dory meets other friends with disabilities: a whale shark named Destiny with bad eyesight and a beluga named Bailey whose echolocation isn’t quite functional (or so he thinks). She also meets an octopus named Hank with no apparent disability (he’s a genius at camouflaging himself) but a peculiar desire to live in captivity. “I just want to live in a glass box alone. It’s all I want,” he tells her. Disney, it should be noted, keeps a lot of marine life in its parks (including the Finding Nemo-themed ride at Epcot) with no apparent plans to return it to the wild. Whether living in a glass box is what those animals want is as yet unclear since they cannot talk, but Finding Dory provides hypothetical justification at least.
Dory’s success in reuniting with her folks is dependent on the kindness of stranger fish, though throughout the movie she is lauded for her singularity. As a result of her inability to form new memories (for the most part), she is impulsive and daring, which aids her from time to time and inspires others. The moral of the story is a less satisfying and more nebulous version of the one found in 2013's underrated Monster’s Inc., sequel Monster’s University. That movie bore the message: You’re not going to be good at everything so stop fooling yourself and wasting your time and focus on what you can do. (It was breathtakingly pragmatic.) Here, it’s something like: You may not be good at everything, but you’re still good at some things, even if your skills don’t quite make sense and seem in your possession so that the story can hit all the beats a Pixar movie needs to hit. Regardless, the idea that everyone has something to contribute is inarguable if slight. Flashbacks depicting the loving patience of Dory’s parents regarding their special child help sweeten the picture and humanize the CGI fish.
At one point, during an initially depressing reveal in the third act that leaves Dory desperate, the child sitting two seats over from me asked her mom (who was sitting next to me), “Are we done yet?” We weren’t, but I felt her frustration as acutely as I felt Dory’s earlier in the movie. What saves Finding Dory from being a rote story about a hard-to-know blue tang getting from point A to point B are its tangential gags and characters. They include a bunch of goofy seals falling off a rock in domino formation, a selectively helpful (but entirely mute) loon named Becky whose jutting feathers atop her crown make her Becky with the stood hair, a random oyster who’s lovelorn for a scallop whose eyes he got lost in, and a voice cameo from Sigourney Weaver (as herself). Finding Dory’s climax hinges on the inherent cuteness of otters, which is hilarious and self-evident, no investment that calls on short- or long-term memory required.
Image via Pixar