When life’s sorrows bring us into shadowlands, we need the joy of Christ to restore our strength. We tap into this joy by nurturing a deeper longing for God. Shadowlands and Songs of Light: An Epic Journey into Joy and Healing takes you on a quest for joy and a life-changing longing for God.
Written by a C. S. Lewis expert and a skilled composer, the book explores 18 beloved C. S. Lewis classics, from Narnia to Mere Christianity, and 13 spiritual principles behind the art of songwriting, as seen in 13 studio albums by U2–all to answer one question: how do we experience deeper joy in our relationship with Christ during times of sorrow and trial?
Shadowlands is available to pre-order at Amazon or ChristianBooks.com. If you pre-order a copy, the author will personally email you with a thank-you note and a copy of his upcoming e-book devotional “Devotions with Tolkien,” which uses J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic “The Lord of the Rings” and Scripture. (This is all on the honor system: simply pre-order Shadowlands, and then send an email to shadowlands2016 (at) gmail (dot) com letting the author (Kevin Ott) know you’ve ordered it, and he will contact you.)
Text LIGHT to 54900 to get a preview of Shadowlands and Songs of Light.
So what was one of the best parts of “Finding Dory”?
(Besides the utterly delightful opening short “Piper,” which ended far too quickly. I wish there was a feature-length film of it. The animation was the most photorealistic I’ve seen in any animated film. It was stunning. Finding Dory is the worth the ticket price just to see “Piper.”)
One of the best parts of this film was its setting. The movie’s alleged story location (one of them) is Morro Bay, California. Morro Bay was a beloved vacation spot for my family when I was growing up in Central California. What a delightful surprise.
One problem: the actual environment they present as Morro Bay is not Morro Bay at all. Morro Bay does not have an aquarium. The aquarium in the film is clearly modeled after the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, CA, a couple hours north of Morro Bay. The “Finding Dory” aquarium is a remodeled, reconfigured, renamed version of the Monterey aquarium. In my opinion, the setting is so clearly inspired by Monterey, California–complete with cypress trees as you would see in the nearby town Carmel-By-The-Sea, an entrance to Highway 1 South toward Big Sur that reminds me of the one in Monterey, and even forests that look like the coastline around Monterey–that I strongly suspect that the setting was originally supposed to take place in Monterey, but perhaps they changed it to Morro Bay for some reason. Just a guess though. (But if anyone from Pixar reads this, I’d greatly appreciate a comment with some insight on how the setting was chosen.)
All of this concerns me because Monterey Bay Aquarium is an even more beloved place on this earth to me than the Morro Bay/Pismo Beach area. The whole California aquarium vibe makes a wonderful setting for this film. But, as I will discuss in the Entertainment Value section, I think Pixar and Disney missed a huge opportunity for an even more memorable setting than the one they created.
Besides that, “Finding Dory” is most definitely deserving of its high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (90+ percent, currently).
It presents a surprisingly strong message about the immense value of having a “mommy and a daddy,” as the characters say repeatedly throughout the film. Moms and Dads are given some real love in “Finding Dory.” In fact, the story gives the age-old institution of the nuclear family a warm embrace. It also has some interesting themes that might inspire children with autism or learning disorders and encourage the parents of those children. More on that in the “Redemption Storylines” section.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
“Finding Nemo” was, compared to “Finding Dory,” a more fun-loving affair and not as serious. Don’t get me wrong, “Finding Dory” has plenty of fun and laughs too, but it is a heavier film, surprisingly. It really burrows into your emotions and psyche and stirs up a wide mix of reactions: intense nostalgia, grief, gratitude, compassion, homesickness, and utter joy.
And oh how I loved the setting and atmosphere of this film, as I mentioned in the intro. The aquarium-centered setting captures something magical, especially if you’ve ever been to an aquarium that you really loved. The wide variety of animals in an aquarium also creates an easy opportunity to create a tank-full of colorful characters. (Many of whom are hilarious and/or beyond adorable.) The sea animation is, of course, everything you’d expect from Pixar. Although it doesn’t reach for the same photorealism seen in the short film “Piper” that precedes the movie (the short is so beautifully rendered that it makes “Finding Dory” seem very cartoonish), “Finding Dory” is a beautifully animated film in its own right, especially in its colors. It’s a gorgeous film to look at, for most of it.
This movie is definitely worth seeing, but I would be disingenuous if I didn’t mention some of the disappointments I felt:
- The movie flirted with both Morro Bay and Monterey, CA as the setting, but didn’t really portray either one to its full potential. And Pixar doesn’t have the excuse of, “Well, the company’s not based in California, and they don’t really know the local area.” Pixar is based in California, and it’s not too far from either location. This is where I think “Finding Dory” really missed a wonderful opportunity. That’s fine if they want to create a fictional Monterey-inspired aquarium in Morro Bay. But if they’re going to use a real place like Morro Bay for the setting, why didn’t they feature some of the stunning, unique features of Morro Bay? Where was the jaw-dropping Morro Rock (that looks like the rock of Gibraltar transplanted to California)? That would’ve been a truly memorable shot to animate, even if it were only for a few transitional exterior shots. Or here’s a bigger question: if the environment looks so much like Monterey and seems to be strongly inspired by Monterey, why didn’t they just make the story take place in Monterey? It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And the Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the most exquisite, atmospheric places I’ve ever seen. And right outside the entrance of Monterey’s aquarium is the world-famous Cannery Row, which has one of the most visually intriguing street layouts in the world, thanks to the old canneries that have been repurposed into other buildings. Why didn’t Pixar just recreate the actual Monterey Bay Aquarium in the film, call it the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and even show Cannery Row and other beautiful locations in Monterey? That would have tripled the immersive beauty and atmosphere of the film.
- One major scene in particular, and maybe a few of the minor ones, drums so incessantly on Dory’s forgetfulness that it begins to feel too repetitive, even aggravating. In fact, there was one section near the climax of the story where it returned to that repetitive cycle again with such force that the thought occurred to me, “Wow, this movie is suddenly going south and losing me. Is ‘Finding Dory’ going to crash and burn with its landing?” But, thankfully, the movie quickly redeemed itself, and it stuck its landing beautifully. (The ending was both innovative/unexpected and nicely satisfying in the way it concluded the story.)
Despite these two complaints, the film overall was a delightful experience.
Redemption Storylines, Worldviews, Edifying Themes
As I mentioned in the intro, the film pays a loving tribute to moms and dads and the pricelessness of the nuclear family. It’s the beating heart of the film: Dory suddenly remembers that she came from somewhere, that a mom and dad brought her into the world and raised her, that she has a home, and she desperately misses them. Along the way, it touches on some heavy themes. It briefly examines the profound heartache of children who, through one circumstance or another, don’t have a mom and a dad (or any parent at all). The film gives you a real sense of the pain that comes with that vacancy in someone’s life. I kept feeling a pang of empathy well up for orphans. It reminded me of James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (NASB).
There is also an underlying compassion throughout the film’s subtext for children who have autism, learning disorders, or other challenges. Interestingly, the film even addresses the unspoken guilt a child might feel when he or she senses that her disability causes difficulty for his or her family. “Finding Dory” speaks gently to these heart struggles. It affirms the innate value that these children have. (And as the son of two parents who dedicated their lives to special education, I greatly appreciated this aspect of “Finding Dory.”)
One of the characters (Hank) learns to have an others-centered, self-sacrificing attitude instead of a self-centered, self-preserving approach to life. His story arc has a nice redemptive theme along those lines: he learns to embrace relationships with others (instead of isolation) and to put others before himself.
Other small hints of worldviews that might be present behind the film: in one scene in the aquarium we briefly see a display of “Pangea,” which is (sometimes) connected to Naturalist origin theories about the earth. Beliefs about earth’s history and life’s origin are varied and complex, even within the community of our Christian readers, and the scene happens so briefly that it’s not really worth diving into for this review.
Conclusion: “Finding Dory” is a Refreshing Splash of a Film to Kick Off Another Hot Summer
I have to emphasize the “hot” summer in the header above because there is currently a 2000-acre wildfire burning within 20 miles of where I live on the Central Coast of California. Ash is falling from the sky like snow, the smoke blacks out half the blue of day, the sun looks creepily red, and the moon has an angry orange glow. Oh, and it’s making things quite warm. Going to see “Finding Dory” actually felt so refreshing, because of all the marine wateriness in it, that it felt as if someone were throwing a bucket of water on me to cool me off. What a great atmosphere for a summer film!
All in all, despite its weaknesses, Finding Dory (and its preceding short “Piper”), was a delight. And it offers a refreshing (even surprising) tribute to the vital importance of the nuclear family.
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Content advisory for this film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality or Sexual Identity: No sexual content, unless you count Dory almost giving the “talk” about where children come from. She’s cutoff before she can talk about “what happens when a mommy and daddy love each other.” Update 6/19/16: I have been getting quite a few questions from readers about possible LGBT themes throughout the film. There is apparently a rumor online that a transgender stingray named Stingwanda is a character and that there is a same-gender couple. I saw the film a second time last night, and there is no transgender stingray character, and there is not a same-gender “fish” couple. I’m not sure how/where that rumor started, but if those characters ever did exist in the film, they were cut from the final theatrical edit for whatever reason. There are also questions from readers about another scene at the aquarium when we see human characters (aquarium visitors) and what some people think are same-gender parents. Here is a quote I found from <a href=”http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/finding-dory-2016″ target=”_blank”>PluggedInOnline.com</a> that addresses that question the most succinctly: “…it should be noted that in our current cultural climate of hypersensitivity about sexuality and gender, some moviegoers are making claims that there’s a lesbian couple featured: That could only be a reference to two women walking together in a park. (There’s no accompanying indication of the nature of their relationship, and co-director Andrew Stanton’s response has been, ‘They can be whatever you want them to be. There’s no right or wrong answer.’)” The same answer from the director probably applies to a whale character named Bailey who is given subtle mannerisms that might possibly (maybe) reflect the Hollywood stereotype of a gay character. (Besides the mannerisms, at one point he shouts, “My life’s a rainbow!” which was awkward, a little out of place/forced during that scene. I suppose it’s possible that Pixar was trying to use the “rainbow” phrase to make it clear that the Bailey character was modeled after a gay man.) Of course, it is odd to be saying all of this in the context of whales and sea life. However, because all of these animals are anthropomorphic the filmmakers are certainly drawing on human attributes/personas to shape the characters. But I suspect the director’s response to everything above would be the same response he expressed in the quote: “They can be whatever you want them to be.” I think that would be my final analysis about the film too: Pixar made everything subtle enough and created enough blank spaces to give people room to project what they want to see in the characters. This is a common approach from Hollywood studios because they want the film to succeed financially and therefore to appeal as broadly as possible, so they often create undefined or subtly defined archetype characters that can be anything to anyone as viewers project themselves onto the film. It should be noted that, despite all the rumors and various possible interpretations above, the very conservative Focus On The Family film review site (PluggedInOnline) gave “Finding Dory” their highest possible rating.
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: A somewhat frightening giant octopus attacks Nemo, Dory and company. The suspense builds up to it in an intense way. There are some intense moments where a young fish is sucked into a pipe. There is an emotionally intense scene that involves the theme of a child’s parents being dead. (And, I should add, that is not a spoiler in any way. It’s simply a theme that arises in Dory’s mind as a possibility at one point, and the film depicts the emotions of deep fear, loneliness, and loss in a fairly intense way that might make a heavy impression on very young kids, depending on the kid’s sensitivity/temperament. It’s a passing scene though, and the movie returns fairly quickly to its adventure and upbeat tone.)
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.