Teaching & Learning in “Finding Dory,” or Why Jenny & Charlie Are Awesome

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Finding Dory came out in theaters this weekend. A sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, it revisits the same central theme of parents losing a child, though it’s handled entirely differently. In Finding Nemo, Marlin crosses the ocean in search of his missing son. In Finding Dory, the adult child returns home seeking her parents.

My analysis gets a little spoiler-y, so if you haven’t seen it, come back after you have. Oh but wait! Before you go! Wait to leave the theater until after the credits! I promise the tag scene is well worth it.

Okay now shoo! Unless you don’t mind spoilers.

In Finding Nemo, the lost child has a physical disability that affected his ability to interact with his world – he has a small fin that impedes his swim speed. But his father Marlin has sheltered him and shielded him from challenges, so that when his son Nemo is kidnapped Marlin feels compelled to go after him.

In Finding Dory, we see, in flashbacks, that Dory is separated from her parents by accident. However, her parents had made very different choices than Marlin. Instead of overly sheltering Dory, we see through a series of memories that they’re doing their best to empower Dory. Jenny and Charlie use song and rhyme and repetition to drive home what they really want her to learn. The biggest difference between Dory’s parents and Nemo’s father is that, when their child becomes lost, they look for her — but then decide to trust that the lessons they taught her will ultimately lead her home to them. Instead of chasing her across untold distances, they sit tight and believe in Dory from a distance.

Marlin taught Nemo, “You can’t, because….” Jenny and Charlie taught Dory, “You can, despite….” Their lessons enable Dory to make friends and be safe while out and about in the ocean until she finds her way home. (I just realized that they never taught Dory, “Don’t talk to strangers.” In fact, the way she proactively approaches others for help is a huge reason she’s able to find her way home.)

Supporting characters experienced their own challenges as well, overcoming them to varying degrees of success — depending on your definition of success. Bailey the beluga whale struggled to use echolocation, but when Dory explained it to him in terms he could understand, he got a handle on using it. He reminded me of students who experience a block about reading or writing or math, then have a breakthrough and are able to acquire a new skill. Destiny the whale shark was exceptionally helpful to Dory, despite having very poor eyesight. While Bailey does help her crash into walls less frequently, she ultimately deals with her challenge by changing her environment to one where there weren’t walls to be crashing into.

Nemo was an interesting character in the sequel. He acts as a foil to Marlin while holding up a mirror so his father could see how his attitude towards Dory was affecting their relationship. When Marlin says something unnecessarily mean to Dory, Nemo doesn’t let him forget it. “You made her feel like she couldn’t do it.” That line really landed, especially considering how much Dory had accomplished by that point in the story. Nemo teaches his father to reassess how he treats Dory and make some positive changes.

Speaking of Marlin, it was nice to see his character continue to develop as well. He went through some major learning experiences in Finding Nemo, but that did not mean he knew everything now. A take-away from his arc was not needing to do and say everything right the first time, but rather learning to recognize when you say or do something hurtful and take steps to make things right, starting with an apology.10952119376

Anyway, it was quite a nice movie, and I recommend it. But now I’ll let Gerald have a turn on the rock.

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