“The recognition for Marlin,” MacLane continues, “is about what capability she has.” When Marlin realizes what advantages Dory does have — including the necessity to respond to the world in the immediate moment, always improvising her way outside of mental boxes — he is then able to give her an added boost of affirming confidence.
“Ultimately, she learns to trust in herself,” MacLane says. “So much of the journey is the ability to trust in yourself.”
(It’s worth noting, by the way, that Nemo’s arc now shows him fully at ease with his lucky fin. “Nemo has found a way to compensate for his shortcoming,” says MacLane, pointing out how there are only brief and subtle references to his shorter fin in Finding Dory, including a quick, special handshake with Dad, and the “hummingbird-heartbeat-fluttery” audio cue when the lucky fin is active.)
Part of what elevates Pixar’s storytelling is this ability to depict these arcs of coping, acceptance and trust in textured fashion across multiple characters.
In the new film, for instance, we again see worried, protective parents, who are trying to teach Baby Dory to say to strangers upfront that she has “short-term re-membery loss.” Dory learns to apologize for her difficulty in advance to compensate, but she also learns that being an upbeat people-pleaser is an effective coping strategy.
“What’s so amazing about her is that she has a clear set of challenges, and she doesn’t allow those challenges to dissuade her from living her life,” MacLane says. “She is aspirational, and she has the energy to be positive.”
In this way, audience members can become invested in her, almost — like Nemo — as surrogate parents themselves. “The audience (wants) the feeling that she is self-sufficient,” the co-director says, “and that she has the tools to be out in the community and be safe.”
Part of the storytelling goal then becomes understanding Dory’s challenges from both within and without. The engagement “has to be deeper than just (the fact) she has short-term memory loss. It’s about finding a way to show the audience what she was grappling with.
“Once we figured that out — when we see Baby Dory listening through (in effect) a second-floor banister — there is something so relatable to that as a parent . . . Their life goes on without us as a parent. Are they going to be OK? Am I being the right parent of this kid?”
“Everyone has their set of challenges,” the filmmaker says, “so these questions are meant to be universal.”