*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.
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.