HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) — My wife and I have been blessed with four children, all under age nine, which means we watch a lot of animated films. This also means we are regularly asking, "Why did they put that in there?"
It just seems that there are few kids' films that are, well, truly kid-friendly.
Which brings me to the latest major animated release by a Hollywood studio, Disney's Finding Dory. I took my 8-year-old son to watch it with me this week, curious if I would be as frustrated as I usually am with cartoon flicks – and wondering if even the smallest of children could enjoy it.
The verdict? Finding Dory is among the cleanest kid films I've watched, is also hilarious and quite entertaining, and I will be taking my 4-year-old twins to check it out, too. And not once did I see anything that made me ask: "Why did they put that in there?" It also has several positive lessons for the family.
The events of Finding Dory are set after Finding Nemo, the 2003 blockbuster that followed the clownfish Marlin as he franticly searched for his lost young son Nemo.
Finding Dory has a similar storyline, only this time it's Dory, a regal blue tang fish, who is searching for her mom and dad. Dory was split up from her parents years ago when an ocean undertow swept her away, and she hasn't seen them since.
Dory's task would be difficult enough in the midst of a big blue sea, but it's compounded by the fact that she has short-term memory loss. She doesn't remember their names, where they lived, or even what they looked like.
"All I know is that I miss them. I really, really miss them," she tells Marlin. "Do you know what that feel like?"
"Yes," Marlin replies, "I know what that feels like."
And so Marlin and Nemo set off across the Pacific Ocean to help Dory find her parents, finally ending up at the Marine Life Institute, a rehabilitation center for aquatic animals. Along the way, Dory's memory gradually comes back.
The creators of Finding Dory seemed to go the extra mile to make this one super-kid-friendly. There are no scary moments that will frighten my 4-year-olds, and the language is squeaky-clean, too. (Unlike, say, Angry Birds.) I laughed out loud several times, as did my son.
The film is full of positive messages.
First, Finding Dory underscores the love and strong natural bond that is found within families. How far would you go to save your spouse or child from harm or to find them if they were lost? Dory could barely remember anything, but she knew that somewhere in the world there was a mom and dad who loved here. (For families with little kids, there's also a lesson here about not getting lost.)
Second, the movie promotes a strong message about overcoming obstacles and believing in yourself. Like tons of children and teens, Dory had strong doubts about her abilities – even blaming herself for the situation and wondering if her parents wanted her back – but little by little, she learned to make it on her own, and in the end, became the hero.
Third, the film displays the beauty of God's creation, even if it's in an animated sort of way. We land-dwellers (that's most of us) rarely get to experience the dramatic colors and the marvelous marine life of the oceans. It's difficult to walk away from Finding Dory not wishing you could explore the seas – or at least a local aquarium.
Now, for that supposed controversial scene from the trailer, involving two women that some said looked like a lesbian couple. The scene in the trailer lasted about one second, and the actual movie scene perhaps twice that long – not giving us much to analyze. Here's what happens: Dory and an octopus friend find an empty baby stroller to get around the Marine Life Institute quicker, and the stroller bumps into two women, who turn around with shocked looks on their faces. The scene then switches to the octopus, and then back to the women, who turn around and walk off. It appeared that one woman was grabbing the other's arm, but for what? Because they were a couple? Because one friend just wanted the other friend to leave with her? My guess is that the filmmakers did intend for it to be a lesbian couple, but Disney isn't saying, and it's but two seconds out of literally a 6,000-second film.
Besides, the story of Finding Dory is about traditional families. Dory had a mom and a dad. Nemo did, too.
Perhaps one day Disney will release an animated film with gay and lesbian characters, but this isn't it.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 5 out of 5.
Finding Dory is rated PG for thematic elements. It has no sexuality and no language (the worst being one or two instances of "oh my gosh.")
Post-movie discussion topics: the family bond – how far would you go to be reunited with or save a family member?; doubting yourself – what can we learn about self-doubt from Dory?; zoos and aquariums – do you think they're a good idea?
Michael Foust has covered the entertainment industry for more than a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelFoust