A movie review of
Directed by Andrew Stanton
Finding Dory is on its way to achieving blockbuster status. Released June 17, its opening weekend garnered $136 million—the largest U.S. opening for any animated feature film in history.1
The sequel to Pixar’s incredibly successful and family-friendly film Finding Nemo (2003),Finding Dory looks to yet again position Pixar as the studio to beat when it comes to computer-generated animated movies.
Purchased by Disney in 2006 for the whopping sum of $7.4 billion, Pixar’s films continue to captivate both children and adults.
Pixar’s seventeenth film Finding Dory reunites Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton with a group of familiar fish—Marlin, Nemo, and Dory, as well as a host of new characters. This time around, it’s Dory who is not so much lost but on a journey to find her parents.
In my book The Wisdom of Pixar, I wrote about the theme of family in Finding Nemo. In that film, a father (Marlin) is desperately searching the ocean for his lost son, Nemo. Along the way, he learns to strike a balance in his parenting between being overprotective and allowing too much freedom.
Finding Dory, on the other hand, is, unsurprisingly, more focused on Dory. As a fish with severe short-term memory problems, Dory gets through life with a mostly positive attitude and a good dose of perseverance. In fact, a key theme in Finding Dory is perseverance, tied closely with the need to overcome fear in order to succeed. It’s good fun wrapped in some touching moments about the value of family.
Technically speaking, Finding Dory is superb. In the thirteen years since the release of Finding Nemo, Pixar has continued to advance its animation technology and it shows. Beautiful underwater scenes highlight the wonder of the world around us, while each character is painstakingly animated. There’s no doubt that Pixar knows how to craft films with the technology available to the studio.
As to the positive ideas present in Finding Dory, both perseverance and overcoming fear are important in life, and in some ways they go hand in hand. Fear should not paralyze us but instead motivate us to move forward. As 2 Timothy 1:7 reads, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and of self-control” (ESV).
Although the parable in Luke 18:1–8 is about perseverance in prayer, the broader applications of the value of perseverance are clear. At one point in the film, one character is on the verge of giving up, but Dory will have none of it. “There’s always another way,” she declares. In other words, persevere.
Another interesting aspect of Finding Dory is comparable to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32). No matter what has happened to Dory—where she has been, what she has done—her parents are overjoyed to welcome her home. In a similar way, God is ready to welcome the prodigals home again.
Obviously, the filmmakers didn’t say to themselves, “This would be a great place to highlight the parable of the Prodigal Son!” But there is enough of the general concept of homecoming to draw some degree of similarities to the biblical account.
Along these lines, Pixar hasn’t deliberately hidden Christian themes and messages in Finding Dory. As I wrote in The Wisdom of Pixar, “The characters and plots need not be overtly Christian in order to instruct us in virtue.”2 Nevertheless, the influence of the Judeo-Christian worldview on Western culture is so great that its virtues are unavoidable, even by those who may declare that they oppose them.
But why should we bother to engage with film at all? As I see it, there are three broad approaches Christians tend to take in relation to popular culture. First, there is the entrenchoption. This view avoids popular culture. Second, there is the embrace approach, which celebrates culture no matter what, often at the expense of ignoring significant problems. Third, there is the engage view, which seeks to understand, interact with, and engage popular culture intelligently and, as such, makes the most sense, apologetically speaking.
Having noted some positive aspects to Finding Dory, are there any areas of concern? As with any film, look at it long enough and anyone will find something to complain about. Overall, Doryoffers viewers positive messages, but in one instance Dory states, “The best things happen by chance.”
It’s almost a throwaway line, uttered during a frantic scene that passes quickly. But is it true? The answer depends on one’s worldview—how we see and understand the world around us. Dory’s statement assumes there is no real overarching purpose or direction to reality. By definition, chance has no direction.
But as James Sire notes in The Universe Next Door, the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of human history?” is an important clue to discerning one’s worldview. The Christian answer is: “History is linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity.”3
Dory’s view of “chance” at the core of life has more in common with naturalistic and atheistic worldviews. If nature is all that exists, then this excludes purposeful direction, such as is found in God.
One more thing should be noted about Finding Dory: the marvelous work of art that plays before it; namely, the short film Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro.
Artistically, the animation throughout Piper is of the highest caliber, especially when one considers that computer-generated animation is still a relatively new medium in the history of filmmaking.
Message-wise, Piper is the story of a sandpiper hatchling who is afraid of the water. In just a few minutes, with no dialogue, Piper tells the charming story of the joys that we may find when we overcome our fears.
Robert Velarde (MA, Southern Evangelical Seminary) is author of several books, including The Wisdom of Pixar (InterVarsity Press, 2010) and A Visual Defense (Kregel, 2013).
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith