Finding Dory is sad and funny and strange and sweet, sort of like its title character. In Finding Nemo, Dory is a sidekick. She's comic relief, someone to lighten the moment when Marlin's search for his son Nemo gets too heavy. But in this Pixar remake, 13 years later, Dory is the star of the show. And her backstory is pretty heartbreaking. I don't know about you, but it honestly never occurred to me to wonder where Dory's parents were in Finding Nemo. Shameful, I know. But (spoilers ahead!) now Dory is trying to find her parents in Finding Dory, and it's a sad reminder of all the years she has lost.
In Finding Nemo, Dory is a blue tang fish with short term memory loss and a sweet sensibility. She was fearless in the face of sharks, helpful to strangers, and generally just about the kindest fish in the deep blue sea. But underneath, she was a lost little girl. She was afraid of being left behind, and was essentially adopted by Marlin and Nemo at the end of the movie, which could have been a happy ending for all involved... except Dory had a family of her own. She had parents who loved her. And, suddenly, at the beginning of Finding Dory, she remembers them.
The good news is, Dory does eventually find her parents. Dory's parents (beautifully voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton) loved her. And Dory remembers them, finally. She remembers them teaching her to sing "Just keep swimming." She remembers playing hide and seek with them. And after a little trigger from her classmates and Mr. Ray about the perils of the undertow and a little place called The Jewel of Monterey Bay, she remembers where they were.
Adventure ensues, naturally. Some new characters are introduced, and audiences are reminded that Dory had other people in her life beyond her parents (like a near-sighted whale shark who taught Dory to speak whale). But at the heart of it all is a lost little fish who misses her parents.
It's actually a surprisingly sad tale, and little ones might get nervous watching it unfold. The idea that little, tiny Dory went missing, that her parents looked for her for years, that she grew up all alone... it could be pretty overwhelming for a child. But then there's the big pay off when Dory and her parents meet again and she realizes that they never once stopped looking for her, stopped loving her, or stopped wanting to be with her. I think the pay off — the lesson that your parents are never going to give up on you — might be worth a little trial along the way.
Because Dory doesn't just find her parents — she finds herself.