Finding Nemo has been a favorite movie of mine since it's release in 2003. With the impending release of its sequel, Finding Dory, I thought it was a good idea to review the movie for its disability representation.
In a word, I find it spectacular. While you won't see Finding Nemo (or any film or media not featuring actual disabled human characters, because it is far too easy for we, as disabled people to be dehumanized) on Tonia's Big List of Resources for Learning About Disabilities I think there's a lot to be absorbed via this movie. It's positive for people of all ages and all abilities, especially when viewed with an eye toward some of the film's disabled characters.
First and foremost we have the titular character, Nemo, a clown fish who was born with an injured fin after a barracuda attack (which killed his mother and all 400 of his siblings.) Nemo's father, Marlin, is extremely vigilant about Nemo's safety, and would prefer to cocoon him at home, rather than risk his injury or death in the ocean. Nemo, not knowing his life another way, wants nothing more than to start school and be like the other school-aged sea creatures, being taught by their scientist teacher, Mr. Ray. Resenting his dad's protective nature, Nemo swims into open water, to prove to his classmates he is brave, and touches a boat. He gets scooped up by a SCUBA diver, and whisked away.
While trying to find Nemo, Marlin meets Dory, a blue tang, with short term memory loss. Though her deficits are clear, we see immediately that Dory is more than comic relief. She possesses keen instincts, she's literate, and she can speak many different dialects of whale. Much like with Nemo, Marlin doubts Dory's abilities, and repeatedly tells her the same thing he'd told his son: "You think you can do these things, but you just can't!" When, in despair, Marlin tells Dory he promised he would never let anything happen to Nemo, Dory responds matter of factly that "That's a funny thing to promise. If you promise never to let anything happen to him then nothing would ever happen to him."
Meanwhile, Nemo's taken to a dentist's aquarium in Sydney, where he meets a moorish idol named Gil, who has a similar fin injury. When Nemo gets stuck in the aquarium's filter, Gil instructs the other fish not to touch him. When Nemo says "I can't [get out] I have a bad fin!" Gil turns to the side to show his own injured fin and says, "Never stopped me." Gil talks Nemo through getting out by himself, and Nemo's able to free himself independently.
Marlin and Dory are on the right track to finding Nemo, thanks, in large part to Dory's strengths. When she and Marlin part ways, she says, "I remember things better with you," which speaks volumes of how we, in the disabled community can thrive with the right support and environment. In the end, Marlin and Nemo are reunited, and because of spending so much time with Dory, Marlin learns to also have confidence in Nemo's abilities. which are numerous. He's a great listener and he can problem-solve, using skills he learned in an earlier setting. He is compassionate, brave and protective like his dad. Most of all, he does not hesitate to act when a situation calls for it.
Whether you watch this film yourself, for enjoyment, or with your kids, don't overlook the disability representation in this film. Don't be afraid to talk to your disabled kids about what Nemo, Dory and Gil's disabilities are, but also what they are really great at.
Plus, it's just a really great movie, so time watching it, is definitely time well-spent.