Why We Won’t Be Seeing Finding Dory on the Big Screen

June 23, 2016 birth family, Kelly, movies, telling their life story 41 Comments

*updated to add: due to the wide readership of this post, and the resulting comments, a follow-up post can be found here.

Debuting on the 17th, Finding Dory has blown box office records out of the water, making its debut the highest grossing one for animated movies ever. It’s as if the crowds have been waiting for it for the last 13 years since its prequel Finding Nemo. My kids are among that crowd having grown up quoting “just keep swimming” and Crush’s “dude…” But, we’re going to be moving against the tide this summer.

finding dory poster

I’ve read the reviews. Critics are generally raving about it. It’s no surprise really; the Disney/Pixar crew are masters at their craft. I grew up watching cartoons; my kids are growing up watching animation that is so remarkable that colorful little fish and octopi become humanesque in every way. We had to exercise the suspension of disbelief to imagine that little penguins could dance and bunnies could talk. Not any more; the graphics look too legit for that. But, honestly, that adds to the reason why we’re not going to be seeing it.

Critics have applauded the underlying message: “it delicately explores the challenges of raising— or being — a child with special needs;” “it tugs at the heart strings; teaches valuable lessons about disabilities, teamwork, and the unconditional love of family”. Disney covered the sisterhood bond in Frozen and the intricacy of emotions in Inside Out; but special needs has been largely unchartered territory. Building on what they started with Nemo’s little fin is admirable. But, does that mean it’s necessarily good for our kids?

From the reviews and spoilers I’ve read, despite adoring parents who worked together to help their child strategize so that she could live safely with her differences, Dory’s “short-term remember-y loss” led her to be traumatically separated from her parents as a child. She was later adopted by our favorite clown fish family and fairly content with that until she started having flashbacks about her birth family, bringing up big feelings that lead to a big move. With help, she leaves home in search of her birth family, who viewers learn have been looking for her but who are now in captivity and dependent on Dory to save them.

That’s a lot for any kid to handle with real looking sea creatures jumping off the big screen. It’s even more for a kid to handle who understands in one way or another that his or her special need may have played a large part in the loss of his or her first family.


I’m all for the hard conversations. I’m all for using every cracked-open door to enter into a conversation with our children about brokenness and big feelings. I make sure they know that we want to be a safe place for any conversation they may want to have. But, I’ve also learned that each one of my children responds best when we can meet them right where they are in those conversations which means they aren’t always convenient.

So, what does that mean for a family movie night for our family? What that means is that we absolutely will be watching Finding Dory at some point but not now. We’ll be watching it on our small screen in our own home where we can press pause every so often for a popcorn or ice cream break and chat as we’re dishing it out with things like, “I really like this movie, but it makes me feel kinda sad. I wonder if it makes you feel a little sad too.” “Watching movies about big feelings always brings up big feelings for me. Does it do that for you too?” “There is a lot in this movie about adoption and birth families, isn’t there? I wonder if it makes you think about your birth family at all. It does for me. It would be okay if it did for you too.”

Our daughter from China may or may not be emotionally affected; our biological children may or may not be emotionally affected. They could all watch it straight through and love every minute. But, if big feelings come and tears show up or they want to withdrawal, I’d rather be ready for it right here safely at home with remote in hand where we can control the intermissions, the volume, the lighting, and the company.

*updated to add: due to the wide viewing of this post, and the accompanying comments, a follow-up post can be read here.

41 responses to “Why We Won’t Be Seeing Finding Dory on the Big Screen”

  1. Amy says:

    You need to actually watch this movie. Most of what you’ve said doesn’t even happen. Her disability is NOT what separates her from her parents, and they are NOT being kept im captivity awaiting her arrival to release them. You really shouldn’t write an article about a movie you haven’t even seen…

    • I agree with you–I really can’t write a review about a movie I haven’t seen. This really isn’t meant to serve as a review, and some of the info may be off given that I simply gathered it from reviews I found online. Rather, it’s just meant to share about our decision to NOT see the movie in the theater and wait for it to come out on DVD and encourage families to consider what is best for their families rather than simply trust that the Disney/Pixar label means it’ll be great for our kids.

    • Jill says:

      I saw it. Watched it with a 5 year old who just left his Chinese foster family a year ago. Dory progressively remembers more and more about the traumatic moment when she was involuntarily sucked away from her birth family, and grieves for that loss. In fact, despite her memory loss, she has two increasingly strong recollections: being loved in childhood, and sudden separation. Strongly wish I would not have taken my son to a theater to see this, given his recent story, and no real way to pause, reflect, or grieve with him. He was buried in my shirt by the end, and refused to watch. Not even sure I would watch it at home with this particular child. So, I appreciate your discerning decision for your family.

    • Francisco Jimenez says:

      Hello Amy, You sound pretty condescending with the way you address the reviewer’s comments on the movie. I understand what you’re trying to say but interpretation is open and how you viewed the movie maybe different than someone who has a child with special needs. One thing’s for sure it’s obvious you do not have a child with special needs…

      • Erin says:

        Many adopted children have emotional special needs. They just aren’t as obvious as something like memory loss. I think it’s good that she doesn’t go to the extreme of saying “never” and that she is choosing to be able to discuss it with her kids as they watch. That’s responsible and also teaching them to have a mature thought process about things they see in media.
        But please don’t make pre-suppositions about her family and their special needs. I have four adopted sisters who are very healthy in many ways but have very difficult issues such as PTSD, RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and hyper-anxiety. Those things affect their lives all the time and learning to deal with them is a tough process. They will likely struggle to a degree with those all their lives, and they are special needs kids. Very broad terminology, so please don’t judge someone for their opinion too harshly. You did choose to read the article.

  2. Shelley says:


    It’s so nice to know that movies are pretty quick to come to DVD version! We held off on Jungle Book since parents were reporting mixed responses on the scary factor for some kids. I took my son to see Finding Dory today, and I was a bit unsettled with Gerald the Sea Lion. I agreed with this article that it kind of undermined some of the message about special needs. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eliza-sankargorton/the-one-glaring-problem-with-finding-dory_b_10616630.html

    • Wow. Really interesting. Thanks for sharing, Shelley.

      Yes, thankful that DVDs come out so fast typically that our kids don’t feel like they’re really missing out on anything. Family movie nights can be way more fun than the theater really. #unlimitedsnacks 🙂

  3. Donald White says:

    We have adopted twins from China with special needs (both are cleft) who will be 13 in September. We went to the movie as a family last Saturday and our girls loved the movie! In fact, they want to see it again. Until you brought it up we did not see the connection you made. In fact, I still do not see the connection. Dory is not “adopted” by the clown fish, she just ends up hanging with them. I really do not see kids making the connection to their adoption but I guess it is obviously possible. I would highly recommend you see it whether on the big screen or on the small. It was very good.

  4. Laurie says:

    It is interesting how some parents feel about things in our world. Both of my girls are adopted,but do not have any identity problems or crises about handling the big stuff when it relates to adoption. I never would think twice about not seeing a Disney movie. I am glad I have never sheltered my kids as they have been exposed to the big world this is out there. They are more secure than I am some days. But to each its own.

    • lisa says:

      That’s great that your assessment is that your girls do not have any problems, however, surely you could see that all adoption situations are not exactly as yours and that no two children are exactly the same either. We were blind sided by the Mr. Peabody movie and if more parents took the time to inform other parents as this mom has done we would NOT have chosen to see that particular movie to mark a special occasion. The day was then tarnished by some pretty strong feelings and the embarrassment of having them at a movie theater.

  5. Mitchell Tolbert says:

    Oh my god. I’m the baby of 9 children, born in 1969, and I am so glad my parents weren’t like you. I mean seriously, come on, you honestly think dosing out a movie to your children with constant ‘let’s explore our feelings’ barrages is smart parenting? I emphatically disagree. First of all, life is never so soft and safe as your delivery method. Our children are in for hard times and heartbreaks, no matter how we try to warn, prep, or train them to deal with. I’d rather mine have a little more ‘hide’ on them, and some room to discover themselves and their emotions without mollycoddling them like you mention. Now I like your assessment of the storyline in the beginning of your article. However, geeze can’t we just let kids enjoy a movie without turning it into an Engish Lit course on exploring underlying themes? How many children had parents do your strategy for “the Wizard of Oz,” “ET,” or speaking of special needs, “the Goonies!” Seriously, I honestly believe you’ll get more psychologically strong results by just taking your kids with you to enjoy the movie as a family and shower them with your love and attention.

    • Lauren says:

      Wow. This is kind of insensitive. Adopted kids are not “typical kids.” Even if they are adopted as infants, they have spent 9 months indie their birth mom. Heard her heart beat and her voice…then enter this world and lose that. They grieve before most. They typically have endured a lot before finding their “forever family.” I have not adopted, but have come along side families who have adopted and do foster care. You can NOT treat adopted kids the same as “typical” kids. Period.

    • Emma says:

      You really don’t need to explain to a parent of adopted kids that life isn’t always “soft and safe” or that there will be “hard times or heart break”. Most of us already get that. Because our kids have already experienced it. My child’s paperwork says he was abandoned at a train station at age 4. If that isn’t hard enough, he actually says he was “stolen” from his family (complete with acting out the whole scene). He entered an abusive orphanage where, among other punishments, he was beaten and had his head held underwater until he “died” as he puts it. All of this while having no way to communicate because he’s deaf. He has plenty of “hide” on him. What he needs is a little more of what you call mollycoddling. We saw Finding Dory and he was fine, but I was apprehensive because he broke down and sobbed at the end of The Good Dinosaur. Totally took me by surprise. Articles like this give parents a heads up so they can decide what’s best for their family. Not all kids have a lifetime of being showered with love and attention. We’re all just trying to do what’s best for Our kids. That’s smart parenting.

      • Tanya says:

        Well said! Thank you! Our adopted kids’ needs are very different. The more we live in denial about that the less likely we will be to be capable of meeting their needs.

      • lisa says:

        Emma, WELL SAID and thank you! Mitchell….Seriously?? You may need a hobby
        if the trolling of the internet doesn’t pan out. Geez!

  6. Nancy says:

    I wish more parents would think before they take their children to see any Disney movie. They need to realize that just because it has the Disney name doesn’t mean it will be good for children of any age to see.

  7. Dessarae says:

    I am a bio mom to a 17 year old who I just found in Sept. I took the 4 children I have to see this and saw how emotional it made me. I called my oldest son after the movie to tell him he is my Dory and I am thankful for finding him again. I don’t know what your adoption situation was but if your children were gifted to you from a loving birth mother this movie gives you a stepping stone to tell them how truly loving a gift they are and how even if they don’t get the chance to see their bio mom She cared about them so much. I do not judge where you see it or when but calmly watch it with them. Answer questions after and watch again if they have to show you where they relate. Bless you and your family. My son will be watching it this weekend and calling me. We talk a few times a week. We have found we were the missing pieces. His adoptive parents agrees.

  8. Whitney says:

    As a mom to two daughters that are adopted, I 100% see your stance. I have not watched the movie, but several close friends have. Two of which also have children that are adopted. One of them felt like their child handled it well, but a few days later he started asking the hard questions. The other mom said she could tell it was bothering her son, so they left during the movie. To each is own. Everyone’s story is different, and everyone parents differently. We, too, will watch it eventually from the comfort of our own home so when things get a little tense, we can take a breather at our convenience. For those that are so judgmental about her list, please don’t be. Some adoption stories are filled with happy thoughts of great families that had the very best interest in mind, but then there are a lot of messy adoption stories that are hard- hard things to explain, hard things to understand and hard things to learn how to deal with. Never blast a mom that’s doing what’s best for her family, especially if you’ve never been there!

  9. Christine says:

    As an adoptive mom, the first thing i thought of when I heard that Dory was going to find her parents was what thoughts, questions, and feelings that might stir up in my son. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one thinking this. I’m very sorry some of the comments were so rude. You sound like a very caring, thinking mom.

  10. Circe says:

    I’m so glad you gave me a heads up, so that I could think about these issues before my Chinese daughter sees it. I’ll be prepared to snuggle with her after and talk. Primal feelings of loss can’t be understood by anyone except the individuals involved, on an individual basis.

  11. Heidi says:

    I saw no implication of adoption in this movie. Yes, Dory has a different family than she did when she was a kid. But so do I. I grew up, got married, and had kids of my own. But I wasn’t adopted. Dory found new family, too, but not through adoption. I mean, everyone sees things differently through the filters of their lives, and adoption isn’t as close to me as it is to you, but I still think it’s a connection that most people aren’t going to stretch far enough to make.

    I saw Dory as having a disability. Just a weakness. To me, Finding Dory is more of a story of how someone who has a weakness learned to thrive despite that weakness, and how others who loved her learned that that weakness is actually a strength, and how they can be better people (er, well, fish) by being like her. It was very powerful.

    I would caution using leading questions with your children, like “There is a lot about adoption in this movie, don’t you think?” Kids aren’t going to pick up on all the nuances you see in movies. (I mean, do you remember seeing Annie as a kid, and then as an adult? I never knew until I was in my 20’s what a tramp Ms. Hannigan was, because it just went over my head as a kid.) You may be planting ideas into their heads that wouldn’t have been there before, and drudging up feelings that weren’t stirred up before you mentioned them.

  12. Heidi says:

    Oops! That should’ve said “I never saw Dory as having a disability.”

  13. Jess says:

    I have not yet seen this movie, but my 12 year old daughter did. She isn’t adopted, although our family is soon getting ready to foster; and she cried through the movie. I feel we should respect different view points, every child is different and what one can handle, another child may not.

  14. Debbie says:

    Thanks so much for the heads-up! No other parent can decide what is best for our child. We may be accused of “sheltering” or “coddling”, but when it comes down to it, we are the ones who tuck our children into bed at night and answer the tough questions about adoption, loss and grieving.

  15. Gina says:

    We just saw this movie yesterday, and I find this interesting to read today. As an adoptive parent, a parent of biological kids with special needs, and an adoptee myself, I admit I never analyzed this movie in this way. I didn’t once notice an adoption theme in it at all, as not one of the characters are adopted. Our child who is adopted is 11, she was adopted at age 6, and the movie did not bring up adoption feelings for her either.

  16. Stacy Bender says:

    I hadn’t read reviews before I took my 10 year old daughter to see this movie. She was adopted from China at 2 1/2. I did not make the connection during the movie and neither did she! She loved it and she is the type of kid who can be very sensitive about her birth family. All kids are different though and you know what is best for your own children!

  17. Jamie says:

    I actually think that Dory is about the same age as Marlon. He didn’t adopt her; she sort of saved both him and Nemo. And it’s a bond that she can’t readily identify (Real quick very minor spoiler* **as evidenced by her calling out “I’ve lost them, I’ve lost my… Them!” But later she clearly puts a label on it. She says, they’re my family.** They’re the family she has made through love and trust, so yes, like an adopted family. But in the same way you and your spouse or best friends became family, it serves to show that sometimes were born with family, and sometimes we find or are found by our family. It is love and not genetics that makes people family.

    But much bigger spoilers…
    I do think you’re right to be careful. (I’m probably raising my daughter to be a terrible movie talker, because I talk her through almost every movie…) you’re right that at some moment she does struggle with thinking that it was her fault, due to some inherent flaw, that she lost her family. And that’s really only rectified with the sort of happy ending that only Disney can provide, especially if you’re trying to gauge how a child of adoption may be interpreting the movie. In the real world, we don’t always get the best of both worlds wrapped up with a bow.

    But watch it! (I agree, Gerald the sea lion made me a bit uncomfortable… Not at first, at first I got a huge laugh at it, the way we laughed at the seagulls and their repetition of “Mine, mine, mine!” It was the second time I winced. But I’ll use it as an opportunity to talk to my daughter about being inclusive, and not using people… Really, my only reservation about the movie.) The movie really is great, and my 2 year old really, really loved it.

  18. Lynette stricklanf says:

    I’m sorry that you see this film this way. Dory was not adopted by Marlin. He is her friend. Not her father figure or adopted father. As a special needs parent, I love how it shows the loce and never-failing encouragement of Dory’s parents. I understand that with adoption comes many unanswered questions and feelings. But pulling all that into this film is missing the point.

  19. Traveller says:

    I’ve seen the movie and it will definitely being up emotions for a child who has been traumatically separated from their parents. Dory suffers a traumatic loss of her parents. Sound like adoption to me. Also, the portrayal of the sea lion and another bird character are very ableist. They are made fun of for being different looking and having odd behaviour.

  20. Lura says:

    We saw the movie yesterday, and yes, there are strong emotions. It’s not really an adoption story, but the movie portrays Dory intensely yearning for her [birth]parents, and portrays finding the [birth]parents as fixing what has been missing. A child who has fantasized about birth parents or some other lost family may see their fantasy supported. A child who hasn’t had those thoughts might feel like there is something wrong with them for not feeling that way about their loss. There’s nothing wrong with waiting to watch this one at home. It’s a nice movie (the octopus is a laugh riot), but it certainly may bring up funny feelings, for parents or for children, and the experience may not feel like “entertainment”.

    • Mary says:

      Many movies bring tears to my and my daughters eyes….that’s good….I think that shows we are prone to sympathize with the plight of others and have strong emotions. Nothing wrong with that. Both of my adopted daughters , 13 and 15, adopted from overseas, saw this with no problem. Because of some of the negative comments from concerned adoptive parents I spoke with my daughter after the movie…her comment “it’s just a movie, don’t blow it out of proportion”. Adoption is a permanent part of their life but it doesn’t define them. They are much more than that. Our job is to guide, we cannot permanently shelter them.

  21. Michelle says:

    I’m sorry but coming from a family who has adopted. This story does not relate to adoption. Dory wasn’t adopted. And Dory is a fish. Not a human. If you explain to your kids that fish have short term memories and that fish tend to get separated then that will help. But if you explain to your kids that this story is about adoption and how it relates to them then they will feel some type of way. Nobody complained about Rio 2 or Finding Nemo when he was separated from his father and then another family of fish took him in because he had no choice. So how is this different? I understand the trauma that adopted kids go through. And I feel for them. I really do. But making a big deal out of a movie only makes things worse for them and bring up emotions that more than likely wouldn’t have been brought up if you didn’t fuss about it. Honestly if your kids did see the movie and your didn’t say anything about adoption or anything else and they felt some time of way. Then you could talk about it and let them express their feelings. But if you fuss about it and make a big deal about it then they will feel some type of way even before they watch the movie…… . Don’t make judgement on a movie you haven’t even seen and only read reviews which means your basing your article on other people’s opinions. Why even write an article? That’s like me with PTSD from war not going to the movies to watch a movie that somewhat relates to war when in reality it has nothing to do with war. But I won’t go see it because someone made such a big fuss about it. Bottom line if you don’t want your kids to see a movie then that is your business not to take them. But at least watch the movie before you write an article based off other people’s opinions. Or better yet. Not write an article at all.

  22. […] figured when I shared on No Hands But Ours about our decision to wait to see Finding Dory on DVD that it would be a well read post. The movie […]

  23. Susan Smith says:

    I guess you don’t allow your children to see ANY Disney movie…all too traumatic. Dead parents (Cinderella, Snow White), parents who die (Lion King, Finding Nemo, Bambi), absent parents (Toy Story), CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES(Frozen). Besides, Finding Dory is about a FISH who loses OTHER FISH,…not a child who is adopted by another family.

  24. Debbie says:

    As an adoption therapist with over 30 years experience working with foster and adoptive families I just want to say , “Well said!” to Kelly. This movie has been traumatic for many children who joined their families through fostercare or adoption.

  25. KathyfromCanada says:

    I just tried watching the movie on a streaming site and sobbed for the first 15mins.
    I am a birth mother of twin boys. I chose their parents and they grew up in a loving home. They are now strong men of 29 yrs of age.
    I know I did the right thing for them.
    but watching the first few mins of the film, with little Dory and her parents , and then being separated, triggered something in me and I could not stop the flow of tears. I had to stop the movie and go read the wikipedia plot synopsis.
    One day I may be able to watch, but not today. I am just thankful I wasn’t in a theatre surrounded by strangers wondering why the unstable lady was hysterically crying at a Disney movie

  26. P wood says:

    Just watched it with my 8 years old adopted daughter from China. I did not see any issue with adoption in the movie. There is a difference between a parent physically making a conscious decision to put their child up for adoption ( which I feel is a selfless act by that parent) and a child being swept away, lost, or intentionally taken from a parent.

    When I was young my brothers best friend was living in conditions, with his biological parent, that were not suitable at all. My mom ended up telling the mom she was going to have her son live with us for a while and he became a “brother” to me. My parents never officially adopted him but he lived with us for 2 years. My parents saw a child in need, desperate need and took him in.

    I tell you this story b/c that is what I saw in finding dory. Although dory was not living in a home that was inadequate for her she was swept away and left in a situation where she was in desperate need and Marlin and nemo took her in. There was no adoption.

    2 years after my brothers friend came to live with us he went back to his mom (who incidentally got her act together) I missed him but he stayed my “brother”. My parents just did what needed to be done out of common decency. The same is true of the characters Marlin and Nemo.

    There would be a difference in my review if in fact Dory had been voluntarily given up by her parents. That is another situation all together.

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