I cannot tell you enough how much I love the film Finding Nemo! If you are like me you and your child can recite the film by heart and are patiently, but most likely impatiently, waiting for the new film ‘Finding Dory’ to hit theaters! What you may not know though is the impact Finding Nemo has been able to have to start honest conversations about disabilities in our community!
Just a little over a decade ago Finding Nemo hit theaters and much like most Disney Pixar films, became a box office smash and instant classic among our families! For those who haven’t seen the film, it looks at the life between two fish, a father and son who get in an argument and are later separated from each other.
The main character in Nemo, a fish that has a “lucky fin” that is smaller than his other fin, is the first disability that can be interpreted in the film for us. A visible impairment, this sometimes gives Nemo difficulty when trying to do things in the ocean. Several times during the movie people question why Nemo’s fin looks the way it does.
Another character in Dory suffers from short-term memory loss where in parts of the movie she has a difficulty remembering locations and names. Many people in our community can interpret this as some type of mental disorder while she also shows some characteristics of ADHD with her inability at times to focus and not being able to stay in one place.
Finally, Jacques, who we are introduced to later in the movie, always wants things clean. He lives in a fish tank and is constantly cleaning his surroundings to the point where he cannot feel comfortable unless things are that way. This is something that can be interpreted as OCD.
While the interpretation of these characters is important to discuss the main two messages that give this film a voice in my opinion are about never giving up and embracing who you are. Dory, regardless of how she may be interpreted by some characters is one of the happiest fish in the ocean. She doesn’t mind her memory loss and throughout the film is one of the most friendly and well-liked characters simply by being who she is.
This is a constant message I try to relay in my mentees on the autism spectrum. Temple Grandin said it best with “different and not less.” For so long I thought that because of my autism diagnosis that I was different than my peers. Seeing someone like Dory though, so confident in whom she is and just having fun, it’s very empowering.
The other message about never giving up also circles around Dory who reminds us all throughout the movie to “just keep swimming.” In our special needs community we are often going to have days where we will feel discouraged, whether it be a therapy appointment that didn’t go well, to having trouble in school. Whenever things go wrong though, we need to ‘just keep swimming’ because we can never give up on our goals. This isn’t only for those with special needs but our loved ones as well. We should never give up on what we want to do in our lives.
Finding Nemo for all the reasons above is so much more than just another Disney film. It’s a teaching moment for our kids while a way to introduce awareness to others about special needs.
I can only hope that Finding Dory will be able to further that conversation in our community!