In the 1960s, psychologist Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment with laboratory rats, identifying half of them as smart and the other half as not smart. In reality, the rats were indistinguishable from one another. They were all just lab rats.
As Dory starts piecing her story together and other characters enter the plot, the movie starts to find its own identity.
Rosenthal gave a rat to each of his multiple helpers, told them if their rat was smart or not-so-smart, and then had them guide their rat through a maze. Rosenthal concluded that the rats deemed “smart” fared better because their helpers had more patience and gave their rats more support in guiding them through the maze. The helpers of the “dumb” rats had lower expectations for their subjects, and thus, Rosenthal concluded, had less patience and offered less support. These rats fared far worse in navigating the maze.
Rosenthal later did a similar yearlong study on students, randomly assigning them labels. The ones labeled as smart had a significant jump in IQ score testing by the end of the year, partially because their teachers spent more time nurturing them.
I don’t know if Rosenthal has seen Finding Dory (I expect that he hasn’t, but that’s wrong of me to assume, especially given his life-long research of expectancy effects). But his theories on society’s perceptions of other people’s abilities play out in a Rosenthalian way in this new Pixar movie. Though the movie settles too much at times for rehashing the plot of the 2003 film Finding Nemo, the sequel goes deeper thematically than the original. The moral of the story is a winning one: recognize others for their positive traits and don’t focus on their perceived disabilities, even if that is what you notice first.
The first 20 minutes of Finding Dory feels all too familiar: a fish finds itself in a predicament that leads to a long, obstacle-filled journey, with the ultimate goal of reuniting family and returning home. Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres), the forgetful tang fish in Finding Nemo that helped father Marlin (Albert Brooks) find his son Nemo (this time voiced by Hayden Rolence), is now the protagonist. As she is taught by her parents as a baby fish, she suffers from short-term memory loss.
As a supporting character in the first movie, Dory acts as the comedic foil to Marlin’s straight-laced, worrisome father figure. As the main character, however, Dory’s short-term memory loss is overplayed and loses its comedic luster early on. When something jogs her memory about her childhood, she sets out, with the help of Marlin and Nemo, to find her parents. When the trio meets up with the surfer-talking Crush, the turtle from Finding Nemo, and then Dory finds herself alone in captivity, the movie starts to feel like a lazy retelling of the original.
As Dory starts piecing her story together and other characters enter the plot, however, the movie starts to find its own identity. Dory meets Hank (Ed O’Neill), a curmudgeon octopus—or “septopus,” as Dory calls him upon learning he’s missing one tentacle—who helps out Dory. Through Hank, Dory discovers she grew up at the Marine Life Institute, where marine animals with ailments rehabilitate before being released back into the ocean. She meets up with childhood friend Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a whale shark that has problems seeing properly, and therefore bumps into the walls around her. Next to Destiny lives Bailey (Ty Burrell), a beluga whale who believes he can’t echolocate because of his big, bumpy head.
Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo go through ordeal after ordeal in hopes of reuniting with Dory. Marlin feels bad that he has only thought of Dory as a forgetful fish and not for her other traits, like her helpful nature, her penchant for being spontaneous, and her resourcefulness. Thanks in part to the new marine animals she meets, Dory starts to realize that she has these other qualities as well.
The ending of the movie is a bit over-the-top and features multiple false endings. But if you’re already invested in a story that features anthropomorphic marine animals that speak, drink coffee, and can read (and a whale shark that uncharacteristically feeds on dead fish), then you’ll probably be more likely to tolerate a far-fetched ending sequence.
Though some of the movie is too familiar and overwrought, the thematic elements are endearing. Dory, Destiny, Bailey, and Hank all have obvious traits that make them stand out, but when someone believes in them, or focuses on other qualities, they start to thrive—much as Rosenthal’s research suggests they would.
3/4 stars. Rated PG for intense scenes. Finding Dory also continues the recent trend of Pixar movies, such as 2015’s Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, which feature plenty of conflict but no villainous characters. Also, fans of the highly acclaimed but little-watched TV series The Wire will appreciate the reunion of Idris Elba and Dominic West, who play a pair of sea lions. Fans of Modern Family will likewise notice the connection of Ty Burrell and Ed O’Neill. In comparison to the other 16 Pixar films, Finding Dory lies in the middle of the pack in terms of quality.
All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.