What Would Dory Do? – Life Lessons From A Forgetful Blue Tang

This past weekend, my family and I watched Finding Dory, the much-anticipated sequel to Finding Nemo. Many sequels, especially animated ones, often leave the viewer disappointed, but Finding Dory builds on the plot and characters that were introduced in Finding Nemo. The film is humorous and entertaining, but it leaves the audience with an uplifting message about overcoming adversity and the nature of learning.

I don’t wish to give too much away regarding the plot, but if you’ve seen Finding Nemo, you’ll know the basic premise: a forgetful yet endlessly chirpy blue tang, called Dory, bumps into Marlin?a clown fish that doesn’t possess much of a sense of humour?who is on a quest to find his lost son Nemo. Finding Dory builds on the relationship of this unlikely trio and develops its own uniqueness.

The audience gets to know Dory from the time she is a small fry. Like Nemo, who has a disability (in his case, a malformed fin), Dory has a learning disability, which the film generically labels as short-term memory loss. Dory’s parents accept, love, and encourage her to work with the brain she’s been given, but it’s clear that Dory struggles. Her parents patiently teach her coping strategies, but they also secretly fear for her future in the big, wide ocean.

In a story that parallels Finding Nemo, Dory becomes forcibly separated from her parents?and, with that, all the familiarity and reliance on them for guidance that she depends on disappears. As in the first film, she encounters a variety of creatures to assist her on her journey. Through the situations they encounter, these creatures become part of her inner circle?to the point of being a stand-in for her own family of origin. However, as in Dory’s case, those allies come in the form of what society might label unworthy; either their physical appearances are not the norm or others think they can’t offer anything because they are grumpy, or come across as downright shifty, or they are struggling with their own unworthiness. But, as Dory learns, sometimes they turn out to be the ones to defy the labels and rise above them to do extraordinary things.

Marlin, though well-meaning, is the voice of caution in the film. In the same way that he wants the best for Nemo but also wants to project his son from taking risks and coming to harm, he adopts the same protective attitude toward Dory. Marlin sometimes gets impatient with Dory and is unable to see the unique personality she is. But Dory is determined to press onward, ignoring Marlin and obeying the internal voice that prompts her to move forward, though she is not initially sure exactly what she is looking for.

Dory, in the initial separation from her parents, and then later through seeking to reunite with them, is thrust into an environment that she feels she is not ready for. She is scared, and she quickly realizes she is unable to cope as well as the others. She keeps reaching out to other fish for help, but most of those she reaches out to brush her off without listening to her story. She is, literally, out of her depth?both physically and metaphorically. She constantly apologizes for the inconvenience that her disability might have on other people, and she doesn’t realize her sense of self-worth.

Of course, Dory’s overall attitude goes a long way to helping her face the adversity she encounters. Perhaps it’s just a part of her personality and something she’s always done out of a sense of naivety, but her indomitable perkiness gives her the determination to face whatever obstacles she encounters with plenty of aplomb.

The turning point, however, is when she allows the doubts to get the better of her. She is tired and feels that she is unable to continue toward reaching her goal. When she feels that she just can’t handle any more difficulty, she can only see that her memory loss defines her and she feels that she is truly unworthy. But just when she thinks that there is no way out of her situation, she digs deep to find the resiliency to succeed.

This film has been applauded in various media reviews for its portrayal of learning disabilities and how society labels those who live with them. But the film goes deeper than that. It can offer those people like Athabasca University students who feel they don’t fit the “norms” of the expectations of education or what learning is supposed to look like a lot of encouragement. We all know someone?maybe it’s even us–who have had a variety of obstacles who have faced and overcome many obstacles in life, including overcoming a disability of some sort. But a moving lesson in the film is when straight-laced Marlin admits that he admires Dory and looks up to her for wisdom and confidence. Dory is surprised that she is a positive influence when her life has been built on something negative. She has had no idea that, through her journey, she has been valuable.

Finding Dory is an entertaining summer movie that the whole family will enjoy. But I think it is also one that will provide a strong message to anyone, including AU students, who just need a bit of a boost when times get tough. Profound life lessons can come to us from the most surprising sources?including animated films.

Carla admits that at times she uses housework as a procrastination technique. She may not have that essay done, but the grout in her bathroom is incredibly clean.

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