Culture

Disney’s Fishy Doctrine

Finding Dory (Pixar)
Finding Dory redefines family.

‘There are no walls in the ocean” goes the concluding moral of Finding Dory, the latest social message from what can be considered the Disney Doctrine.

But what about nature’s great barrier reef, the one known as Taste?

Disney’s “happiest-place-in-the-world” corporate philosophy appears to tie in with current open-borders politics. (The better to welcome theme-park visitors, my dear.) The studio’s popular multimedia productions The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Frozen have led the diversity trend for so long that Disney’s frivolous yet ideologically loaded entertainment has influenced what many people now perceive as simply the way animated films ought to be made and consumed –as youth indoctrination.

In Finding Dory, a sequel to the 2003 blockbuster Finding Nemo, Dory, a blue tang surgeonfish, can’t recall how to get home. With help from her best friend, Nemo, an orange-and-white-striped percula clownfish, she journeys to find her way back to her well-meaning but ineffectual parents. It’s the usual, tiring Pixar formula, but now an element of modern grimness, patterned after the dystopian Wall-E (2008), has been added. It’s a grim cuteness — as in the dimply sound that Ellen DeGeneres uses in voicing the role of Dory: “I suffer from short-term remembery loss,” she gurgles at the beginning.

One’s taste for messaging and for mawkishness will determine one’s response to Finding Dory. Although the specter of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease haunts this Pixar fish tank — especially in the nagging irritation that it all has been seen before — Finding Dory is relatively innocuous. And innocuousness is the problem. Dory and her water-dwelling friends learn about ecological coexistence while venturing through aquatic wilds and eventually into the Marine Life Institute of California. (This includes a maritime exhibit using action-movie heroine Sigourney Weaver as a docent.) But Finding Dory is aggressively innocuous, like the Toy Story films. Fears of orphanhood, bereavement, and social helplessness are raised only to be easily pacified. For anyone who is not a legally bound babysitter, Finding Dory offers nothing that will please a taste for finer humor, freer fun, or genuinely expressive filmmaking.

Dory’s search for her mother and father is a transparent metaphor for our era’s bewilderment about family and identity.

Once again, it’s time to rethink the impact of Pixarism — the veneration-of-family movie formula that too many people think is just dandy — as a corruption of movie taste. Directors Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane offer an aquarium rainbow of colors and tickling, wavy ocean-current imagery that must make the digital animators very proud, but these technological feats are tied to an overly cute moral simplification. Dory’s search for her mother and father is a transparent metaphor for our era’s bewilderment about family and identity. Dory declares that her pals Nemo, his father, Marlin, an anxious, amputated octopus (called a “septapus”), and other helpful anthropomorphic creatures are “more than friends — they’re family!” This doesn’t just mean camaraderie; it transforms ideas of orthodox family structure.

The modern family in Finding Dory corresponds to contemporary social circumstances; it forsakes blood ties and shared history for new social allegiances. Curiously, it intermixes ideas of traditional marriage with ideas of social independence and individual sustenance (omnisexual sustenance through Ellen DeGeneres’s prepubescent vocals). This modern asexual view is just as sentimental as old-fashioned allegiance to the basic two-parent heterosexual social unit.

#share#Disney’s masterpieces from the Forties and Fifties, such as Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi, offered richer alternative visions, in which individual protagonists learned from family separation and tragedy. Finding Dory, by contrast, feels tendentious. It encourages audiences to see themselves as part of a sociological construct outside of the traditional family. My main problem is that this is achieved by putting viewers through the politically correct wringer. There’s constant manipulation of sentiment in Finding Dory, but without reflection. A crucial part of the Disney Doctrine is to normalize social (and family) dysfunction. Dory herself symbolizes displacement and spiritual dislocation. She’s not just a fish-out-of-water — despite being mostly in water. She’s an existential victim. (One of her non-familial friends is a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny.)

In his classic 1976 study of fairy tales, The Uses of Enchantment, psychologist-scholar Bruno Bettelheim explained: “The fairy story ends with the hero returning, or being returned, to the real world, much better able to master life.” Pixar has commandeered this template. It pretends to help audiences “gain emotional maturity,” as Bettelheim advised, yet Finding Dory — like all Pixar films — mainly teaches viewers immaturity and emotional dependence on Disney/Pixar product.

#related#Animation doesn’t have to be as formulaic as Finding Dory. In the 1960s DePatie–Freleng cartoon series Roland and Rattfink — newly released by Kino on Blu-Ray DVDs — the conflicts between the two men symbolized political difference (unlike Finding Dory’s communalism and implicit socialism). Their battles allowed for sharp rhetoric and antic graphics. Roland and Rattfink reminds one that animation’s original appeal came from its surreal rendering of the irrational — of a wonder, fear, and delight that goes beyond photographic realism. Finding Dory’s faux realism (the fish look like plastic when they emerge from water) replaces conventional animation artistry with a new taste for something less than wonderful. The Disney Doctrine advocates personal politics through obvious patronizing and adorableness.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

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