Finding Dory is a sweet movie about a lost girl (fish) who, years later, finds her parents. The story is a sweet, heart-warming tale that resonates deeply because of its heart, but also because of its familiarity—it’s a repackaged version of the Prodigal Son.
Think about it. Dory has a loving family, but loses her way. Granted, she doesn’t rebel and leave in the way the Prodigal Son did, but she gets separated from her family, nonetheless. It’s the gentler version, but also a very common one. Many people rebel, but far more drift. The world is full of people who are full of good intentions but, for one reason or another find themselves separated from their loving, Heavenly Father. The fact that we are born into sin itself separates us, in much the way Dory’s forgetfulness separated her. It wasn’t rebellion but nature that caused the problem. Either way—Dory found herself like the Prodigal Son, separated from her family and longing to return.
Not only that, but Dory was filled with doubts about what would happen if she did. Would her parents have forgotten her? (How could she not wonder if they would forget, when she herself forgot everything? We tend to see others in light of our own shortcomings.) Would her parents blame her for getting lost? She felt shame—it was her fault she lost them. “Do you think my parents will want to see me? Because I lost them.” It may seem ridiculous for her to think they wouldn’t want to see her, but that’s how it is when we are separated—we live in fear and assumption rather than in truth. We don’t know reality, so live in our imaginations and assumptions, and that rarely turns out to be a good thing. Dory wanted to find her parents, but was perhaps just as concerned about what that reunion would look like as the Prodigal Son was himself.
When Dory does find her parents, the scene is much like the scene Jesus describes when He tells the story of the Prodigal Son returning to the father. The father was looking for the son and ran out to meet him, smothering him with love and gifts. He never blamed the son, he only rejoiced and reestablished him in the home. Dory’s parents were the same. They were looking down the road for her in their own way—they were laying shells, setting a pathway for Dory to find that would lead her home. And they rejoiced that their daughter was found, welcoming her back, reestablishing her in their home, erasing all sense of guilt and shame Dory had been carrying.
It’s very much the story of the Prodigal Son, particularly when you look at the parents and their behaviors and their love. The only real difference between the two stories is between Dory and the Son. Because Dory didn’t do anything “wrong,” she doesn’t repent. The Son repents. Additionally, because we live in the time and age that we do, there is, of course, an underlying, “You are awesome!” message. Not that this is all wrong, so much as it is that it is overdone. Regardless, rather than focusing on the parents love and grace and faithfulness to prepare the way so Dory could return (again, so much like the Father did for us in sending Jesus to open up a way home), the final message is about Dory’s awesomeness in finding her parents by “remembering in [her] own amazing way.”
“What would Dory do?” That was the mantra of the movie. Others would ask it, because despite her faulty memory, she had an uncanny knack for solving problems in out of the box ways. Dory, herself, learned to ask it, to boost her confidence and give her a fresh outlook when she began to feel defeated and discouraged. She would start to wallow in failures and forgetfulness, saying things like, “All I can do I just forget and forget. That’s what I do best.” To turn that around, she’s ask, “What would Dory do?” And then answer herself, “I would look around…” It worked. On the positive side, it celebrated her uniqueness and her ability to overcome her disabilities. It turned her focus off of what she couldn’t do and onto what she could do. There is good in this.
Not to be negative, but to simply bring a little balance to the discussion, there is also some concern with this message. It makes Dory her own highest version of truth and support. Instead of asking “What would Jesus do?” as the phrase was famously coined, she’s asking “What would I do?” It may not be a bad question, but I hesitate to say it’s the best one she could ask. (I know, it’s not a Christian film, so I don’t expect to hear WWJD, but the principle is that she is her highest reference point here. She doesn’t have any higher role model or authority to refer to. She doesn’t even ask what would her parents do, or her favorite teacher, etc.) You may think I’m splitting hairs on this last point, and that’s OK. I wouldn’t ban my kids from seeing it because of that or make a big deal about it. It’s simply an interesting discussion point to think about the consequences of the ultimate messages we (ourselves and our children) are getting from things we watch.
This final point, however, I think probably bears a little more weight. The final message of the movie is what Dory’s parents say when they are reunited with Dory. Dory says she’s sorry for getting lost, and they respond, “Don’t you dare be sorry! Look what you did! You found us!!! Why do you think we stayed put all these years? Because we thought you’d find us. So every day we go out and lay shells. … You know why you found us? Because you remembered in your own amazing way!” It’s very sweet and they do a wonderful job of encouraging her and taking away her shame. I don’t have a problem with this story. I simply want to draw attention to the fact that this is SO very close to the story of the Prodigal Son but it is NOT the same. And when something is a copy of an original and then changes that original, we need to take a minute to note the changes and what they mean to the story.
In this case, the changes are ultimately changing the message. The spotlight here is not on the parents and their love (although it’s there). The spotlight is on Dory. It’s about her strength and creativity and ability (despite her disability) to find her way home again…and really to do anything she sets her mind to. It’s really such an American story and one we love. It’s a fine story. But it’s not quite the same as the Christian story. Jesus told the story of the Prodigal Son to let us know that it’s not about our strength or goodness or worthiness. No matter how badly we mess up, He still loves us and is waiting for us, longing for us to return. Nothing will ever separate us from His love. The focus is on the Father. He is the worthy one. In Finding Dory¸ the focus is on Dory. She’s the worthy one. Her parents are worthy too. Everyone is worthy. There’s no fault or blame, just accidents…and those can be fixed through our own hard work, unique abilities and a lot of love.
The point isn’t to criticize the movie, but to point out how to use it more effectively in your homes and lives. Just a suggestion here, but maybe, after watching the movie, read the story of the Prodigal Son and discuss how the two stories are similar and how they differ. Ask who the hero/heroine is in each story. Ask if the two stories have the same message or if it’s changed at all. As kids see the love Dory’s parents had for Dory, maybe they’ll see even more the love God has for them. And hopefully they’ll see that they can always return home to the Father, whether they’ve gotten lost through an accident or blatant rebellion.
Questions for Discussion:
- How is Finding Dory similar to the story of the Prodigal Son?
- How is Finding Dory different from the story of the Prodigal Son?
- Who is the hero/heroine in Finding Dory? What about in the story of the Prodigal Son?
- What is the ultimate message in Finding Dory? What about in the Prodigal Son?
- Have you ever gotten lost? Have you ever left home, by accident or on purpose? Was it hard to come back home? Why or why not?
- Do you think your parents would be looking for you after all those years? Do you think God loves like you that and is hoping you’ll come home to Him?