Kids once learned lessons about life through books. That's still the case for many children, but for the rest of them, movies have helped fill the gap.
That can be scary thought when you consider what Hollywood is putting in theaters, but for families who watched Finding Dory — which set an opening-weekend box office record for an animated movie — it's a good thing.
The Disney/Pixar flick is full of positive life lessons for both children and adults, as I discovered when I took my 8-year-old son to it on opening night. As we drove home, he and I discussed what we could take away from a film that, yes, was both entertaining and hilarious but that also had a great message.
Here are four lessons for families:
1. Disabilities are mere speedbumps.
Dory suffers from a short-term memory loss, and three of her friends — a whale shark (near-sighted), a beluga whale (seemingly no echo location ability) and an octopus (only seven arms) — have what amount to disabilities.
On the surface this appears as nothing more than a clever plot twist for jokes, but it's more than that. Dory's parents agonize as they cry and wonder: How will she make it in life? Dory, of course, struggles with self-doubt, thinking she won't ever achieve her goal. Yet everyone is cheering for her.
In the end, she does find her parents, who are beaming with pride and excitement as they realize she found them by herself. No, it wasn't easy, but Dory overcomes her disability and proved everyone wrong — and kids of all ages and abilities can learn from it.
2. Have a heart — and guard your words.
Sure, we laugh as Dory forgets something every three seconds, and that's perfectly fine because it's a cartoon fish. But as her friend Marlin learns, even a fish with a short-term memory loss can remember harmful words.
Marlin belittles Dory at one point and he soon regrets it, but by then the harm is done. (Although they do become friends again.)
The weekend after my son and I watched Finding Dory, we went to a restaurant where he noticed a woman with a mental disability at an adjoining table. He had lots of questions, and most of the answers involved God, but at some point that day I did toss Finding Dory in there. It's a great film for introducing kids to a complex topic.
3. Support your children.
Yes, Dory's achievement was incredible, but don't miss how much her parents loved and helped her every step during her childhood.
"We will never forget you Dory," her mom reassures her during one discouraging moment, when Dory had forgotten something important.
Although Dory gets swept away at sea early in the movie, she begins to remember things her parents told her to keep her safe, even if she doesn't always know the source. By the end of the film, we realize it has been years since Dory had last seen her parents, but the lessons they had taught her — and the love they had showed her — had kept her alive. What an amazing reminder to parents that those mundane day-to-day moments will eventually have an impact.
4. Life is precious.
Who would have thought that Disney and Pixar would give us a blockbuster movie with a pro-life message? Of course, the film's message is not technically about abortion, but when you realize that our modern-day medical community promotes prenatal screening tests so as to identify birth defects, then the message of Finding Dory does indeed cross into the pro-life debate.
The majority of babies with Down syndrome and spina bifida in the U.S. are aborted. In other countries, young babies with cleft palate lips are often abandoned.
Finding Dory teaches us that all lives — even the lives of those who look and act different — are worthwhile.