‘Finding Dory’ Sends A Clear Message To SeaWorld
"There are no walls in the ocean."
This is what a captive beluga whale says to a captive whale shark inside the fictive Marine Life Institute, the setting of the latest animated film from Disney-Pixar - "Finding Dory."
The filmmakers of "Finding Dory" actually rewrote the script in light of the "Blackfish" effect: the public outcry against marine animal captivity following the release of the 2013 documentary.
The result of this rewriting is a clear statement against captivity. The film is as charming and entertaining as it is compassionate to the people and animals caught in the floundering industry of animal entertainment.
The basic story goes like this: Dory, a blue tang fish, suffers from short-term memory loss. When she gets separated from her family at a young age, she can't remember where she came from or why she's all alone. Time passes and Dory grows up and finds her way around. (Adult Dory's voice transforms into the familiar voice of Ellen Degeneres.)
Along the way, Dory makes friends: Marlin (voiced by Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (voiced by Hayden Rolence), whom Dory helped locate when he got lost from his family in "Finding Nemo."
One day, Dory has a flashback that triggers a dim memory of her parents and her origins. As a result, she becomes consumed with trying to find her real family.
Marlin and Nemo join Dory in hitching a ride across the ocean with a group of sea turtles to California, from where Dory is convinced she came. They find themselves in a bay, polluted with trash and debris.
Suddenly, Dory, who has become entangled in a ring of plastic, is plucked out of the water and plonked into a cooler by people in a boat. "No respect for ocean life," one of the people says, as the boat carts Dory off to the Marine Life Institute and deposits her in a tank alone, in a building built just for quarantining wild animals taken from the ocean.
In the pipes, tanks, tourist attractions and the gift shop of the Marine Life Institute, Dory's quest to find her parents continues - and she meets some unforgettable characters along the way, all with their own anxieties stemming from a strained relationship with the ocean.
One such friend is Hank (voiced by Ed O'Neill), a brilliant but anxious captive octopus, who has cultivated a dread of being free. Early on in the film, Hank claims he just wants to be alone in a tank, until his burgeoning friendship with Dory makes him realize the importance of freedom and togetherness.
A beluga whale named Bailey (voiced by Ty Burrell), who has also spent a long time in captivity, has cultivated a fear of life in the open ocean, until he rediscovers his incredible echolocation powers that help him get around safely.
A nearsighted whale shark named Destiny (voiced by Kaitlin Olson) feels insecure about her abilities to swim, since she spends all day bumping her head into the concrete limits of her enclosure, until she's reminded by Bailey that there are no walls in the ocean.
These characters prove essential to Dory's efforts to reunite with her family - and learn something about their own fears and captive condition along the way.
One especially fearful moment is when Hank and Dory fall into a shallow pool in the Kids Zone exhibit, where they are terrorized by a multitude of grabby child hands plunging into the water to touch sea creatures.
"It's too dangerous to move," Hank tells Dory, cowering under a rock.
"I know you're scared, but we can't give up," Dory says.
While depicting how scary captivity can be from the animals' perspective, "Finding Dory" refrains from shaming or overtly denouncing the Marine Life Institute, or its aquarium partner in Cleveland, where many of the fish "rescued" by the Marine Life Institute are actually shipped - and it's more effective for doing so. Rather, the film shows, through the emotions of the characters and their struggles, that captivity just isn't good for wild animals.
The backdrop to the main plot about family, togetherness and home perfectly captures our shifting attitudes about keeping animals confined. The Marine Life Institute toes the line between being in cahoots with a distant aquarium and genuine efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine animals.
Perhaps it's no surprise the film is riding the wave of anti-captivity sentiment. Ever since "Blackfish," hearts have gone out to the marine animals stuck in tanks for human entertainment, and the movement to end this kind of captivity has made huge strides ever since.
Earlier this year, SeaWorld announced that it would stop breeding captive orcas because of plummeting profits, and just this week the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, announced that it would retire its dolphins to a sea sanctuary by 2020.
We won't give it all away - but suffice it to say, no one has to worry about running into walls in the end. Because, as recent turning tides have shown us, it just couldn't be clearer: People don't want to see animals stuck in tanks anymore.
And a whole generation of kids, growing up with movies like "Finding Dory," is going to change the way the future looks for animals everywhere.
As Dory says to Hank when things look especially scary: "We can't give up."
"Finding Dory" opens in theaters across the U.S. on June 17.