Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Greatest Compliment

“The Greatest Compliment”
Taya Smith of Hillsong United
A Review of Hillsong: Let Hope Rise by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, NR
Reel Rating, Five Reels           

            When Augustine wrote that “singing is praying twice” it’s doubtful he had ripped jean twentysomething rock musicians in mind, yet the latest documentary from Christian powerhouse Pure Flix shows that the genre is not only a force for good in the world but can bring people to authentic faith. Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is an act of pure joy, the story of how a small church band from Sydney became one of the most successful Christian movements of the 21st century. If you listen to any Christian radio station or attend any youth event, their hits will be instantly recognizable. As the Catholic world wrestles with a proper understanding of the Liturgy, it’s easy to become dismissive of these Protestant upstarts who don’t have the benefit of centuries of musical knowledge. Yet if one looks to the fruit of Hillsong’s labor, the Spirit is truly present. There’s a lot they can teach us, and much we can teach them.
            As the film begins, Hillsong United prepares for a worship concert at the LA forum. At first, things look fairly normal. The band rehearses. Microphones are checked. Lights are adjusted. Yet as the line outside begins to grow, director Michael John Warren takes the audience on a backstage look at the history of Hillsong Church and the lives of each band member. It started as a one room building with a miniscule stage by Pastor Brian Housten and his wife Bobbie in 1983. Now much older and with shorter hair, his passion for the gospel has not waned. “I always thought God created music for the sole purpose of worshipping him,” he muses. To this end, his son Joel starts a worship band with his friends. They begin as wild teenagers, more interested in dumb pranks and 90s grunge than praising God. As they travel the world and experience the consequences of original sin, however, they begin to mature and turn their faith into masterpieces of Christian art. They not only sing in foreign countries but, not completely unlike the early apostles, start churches of their own that work with the local people to address needs like food, water, medical care, and housing.
            This is what separates Hillsong from so many other Christian groups: an intentional focus on the suffering of humanity and how the saving grace of Jesus can bring anyone hope. Albert Schweitzer said he wanted “his life to be his argument,” and they live that adage. “Most people assume we live rock stars,” one prominent musician sighs. His wife and two daughters still live with her parents and dream of the day they can afford a down payment on a house. On the road many months at a time, he treasures the time he has with his family. Another musician wakes up from nightmares every night after his six-week old baby has open heart surgery. They are honest about their shortcomings, even admitting that many of their songs are not up to par, and have no interest in the prosperity of the world.
Yet by being close to the margins, they frequently produce wonders. Several times, the plot slows down to show full performances from the concert that mirror thematically the course of the narrative. I had never heard their most popular song “Oceans” until the screening. It is as good as anything by Bach, Handel, or the great anonymous monastics of the Middle Ages. Perhaps even better. Hours before the concert, Joel is still editing the lyrics of one song, trying to get it as perfect as possible. The first time the audience hears it will be the first time he does too.
            There is precious little formal theology in any of Hillsong’s work, and the context is fully Protestant. Yet at the same time, there is nothing that would offend any Christian who professes the Creed. Their themes of trust, grace, salvation, and glory are great points of ecumenical unity. Before greenlighting any song, they double check with their pastor to make sure it is Biblical based. Consider this comparison between “Mighty to Save” and the Paschal Troparion of St. John Chrysostom:

Saviour he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save
Forever author of salvation
He rose and conquered the grave
Jesus conquered the grave

Christ is risen from the dead!
By death he trampled Death
and to those in the tombs
he granted life.

They could have been written by the same person. One concert member joyfully admits that he used heroin for twelve years “until last Monday.” As Christ told his disciples, “he who is not against us is for us.” The skepticism about Christian rock is overblown, a matter of prudence rather than heresy. Christian rock can be great music but is largely inappropriate for liturgical practice. Liturgical music should direct the faithful to what is occurring at that specific moment in the Mass. Christian rock is not liturgical but experiential, better for concert halls than cathedrals. It is, however, genuine devotion and can be used with great success on retreats or as standalone events.
            The first frame of Hillsong contained a disclaimer: This is a theatrical worship experience. Participation is encouraged. I thought that statement was a bit odd, but twenty minutes later I was singing. And laughing. And weeping. And I felt the veil of darkness rip, allowing me to experience a moment of deep consolation after many months of being plagued by spiritual doubt. I left the theater with renewed courage to face my trails, safe in the knowledge that Christ’s saving action could conquer anything. I can’t think of a better compliment to any movie than that.

Everyday Heroes

Sully and his co-pilot
“Everyday Heroes”
A Review of Sully by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG-13
Reel Rating, Four Reels            

            The story of the Miracle on the Hudson and its protagonist Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger has already entered into mist of American legend like Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan. During an interview shortly after the event, Katie Couric asks him, “are you a hero?” For most Americans, the obvious answer is yes, but for some there is doubt about the assertion, including the man himself. The incident in real time is not terribly dramatic. Less than thirty minutes passed from the plane took off at La Guardia airport to when every passenger and crew was safely out of the water. Despite the misgivings, time has shown that Sully is indeed an American hero, though of a type rarely recognized.
            It goes without saying that director Clint Eastwood is a master storyteller. At eight-six, he is still making a movie every two years and the quality only seems to be getting better. Sully begins after the event when the FAA and US Airways begin their initial analysis. There is some question regarding his decision to ditch into the Hudson River rather than attempting to return to an airport – no doubt with insurance and lawsuits on the mind. Did Sully needlessly endanger 155 lives and ruin a multi-million dollar machine? As the film progresses, the details of that day are slowly revealed. Since the outcome of the flight is already known, this is good way to keep tension throughout the story while examining aspects that might otherwise be uninteresting. For his part, Sully (Tom Hanks) is convinced he made the right choice, even if computer simulations might say otherwise. The airline representatives are certainly antagonists, but they aren’t monsters and are willing, with the “help” of the pilot’s union, to give Sully a fair hearing. It just seems too good to be true, but maybe that’s because it’s never happened before. 
            Watching Sully, two other fantastic films came to mind that were similar visually and thematically: United 93 and Captain Phillips (both directed by Paul Greengrass). These films involved hijacked vessels where ordinary citizens were thrust into extraordinary circumstances. In these cases, the people involved were heroes in the traditional sense, choosing to do act when they did not have to and saving lives in the process. Like St. Joan of Arc or St. George, they faced the dragon of moral evil and conquered.
            Sully is not that kind hero. Facing the natural evil of a bird strike, he stays calm and follows protocol. He draws on thousands of hours of flight experience to make a calculated decision and see it through. He performs an ordinary task with great care, saving as many lives as possible, including those on the ground. In this way, he is a hero in the same vein as St. Thérèse of Lisieux or St. Therese of Calcutta, who advocated the “little way” to holiness. He did what he was trained for, and, this time, it worked out perfectly. Not all of us will be like the passengers of Flight 93, but all us can be like Sully, dutifully giving every aspect of our lives over to God and trusting in His providence. In this way, if the birds never came, the plane landed safely in Charlotte, and no one ever heard of Sully, he would still be a hero.
            In the final moments of the film, he is vindicated and it becomes clear the right choice was made. Yet even then, Sully refuses to accept the mantle of hero. Rather, he praises everyone else. He praises his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), who guided him through ditching directives. He praises the airline stewards, who calmed the passengers and got everyone out. He praises the responders without whom some would have frozen to death in the 36° water. “It took all of us,” he says. “Working together to make it.” With this line, Eastwood has created the perfect movie to commemorate September 11th when Americans of all stripes came together to help one another. In an election season that has brought to light what is worst in America, it’s helpful to be reminded of what is best. The common man is alive and well, doing ordinary things extraordinarily, usually unnoticed but once in a while getting the praise (and the movie) he deserves.

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on September 22nd, 2016.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Philip Pullman vs. Hayao Miyazaki

Kubo and his team
“Philip Pullman vs. Hayao Miyazaki”
A Review of Kubo and the Two Strings by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating, One Reel          

            In The Usual Suspects, Roger Kint stated that “the greatest trick the Devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” That may have been true in the 20th century, when fascism and communism terrorized the world, but now the Devil has shifted his strategy. In the 21st century, his trick is getting people to believe that Jesus Christ promotes his agenda. Kubo and the Two Strings, which had tremendous promise, is such a trap. Keep kids far, far away.
            Snatching a trope from Disney, as a baby Kubo (Art Parkinson) is rescued by his goddess Mother (Charlize Theron), but not before his grandfather, the Moon King, kills his human father and rips out his left eye. They spend the next twelve years in a cave hiding, with Kubo earning money on the streets of rural Japan by telling stories with his shamisen. “Never go out after sunset,” Mother tells him, “or my sisters will find you and take your other eye.” Kubo is not only a great storyteller, but divine blood gives him special powers. As he plays the shamisen, origami figures come to life and dramatize his stories. While he has the admiration of the townspeople, his life is still a mystery. Injured in the rescue, his mother suffers from an unknown mental disorder, and it’s hard to discern whether her tales are true. As he learns more about his past, the tables are upset again and again, culminating in a hero’s quest to find his father’s armor and confront his grandfather. The spirituality starts out simple as well but becomes more complex before revealing its sinister nature in the third act.
      At this point, an important distinction needs to be made here between traditional paganism and neo-paganism. Ancient pagan societies, deprived of God’s direct revelation given only to the Israelites, had to make do with the natural law that God gives every human person. Born with the impulse to worship, they created religious systems out of the most important aspects of their immediate universe: water, the sun, food, plants, fire, war, sexuality, family, the Moon, and so on. While severely flawed, their search for truth was genuine, and early Christian missionaries were able to use their philosophies to bring them to Christ. Paul’s ministry to the Greeks in Acts 17 is a perfect example. Kubo and the Two Strings is steeped in Shinto tradition, like the films of Hayao Miyazaki. This does not cause any problems as long as it remains honest. Yet soon, Kubo loses its way. 
Neo-pagan systems are those from societies that are culturally Christian yet choose to return to pagan ways of thinking; the New Age movement is the most prominent example. This cannot be helpful because it knows the Truth and actively denies it. The practice of magic (spells, curses, hexes) in either case is never morally acceptable. Yet traditional paganism can be useful in literature to help illustrate unseen truths as long as children are mature enough to understand the distinction. In the beginning, Kubo seems to be advocating a pagan worldview with underlining Christian themes. Yet soon it is revealed that the evil Moon King is a stand-in for the theistic Deity. “I want your eye,” he says, “so that you cannot see the imperfection of this world.” In this regard, Kubo is similar to the Philip Pullman’s atheistic His Dark Materials series, where God is actually an upstart angel who is accidentally killed by the protagonist. These darker, anti-theistic themes are mixed with Christian tropes to make it more digestible to a Western audience. The New Age movement does the same thing.
Like Pullman’s hero, Kubo conquers his grandfather with the help of his deceased parents. However, the Moon King does not die but is reduced to an old man who cannot remember his past. “Who am I?” he asks Kubo. Kubo smiles. “You are kindest, most compassionate man in the village,” he says. Kubo creates a noble lie to turn the King into a humble peasant, writing him “a new story.” This idea of taming evil is unfortunately common in children’s literature. While every person deserves mercy, sin itself can never be made docile. It must be destroyed. People also need to be saved by Truth, not falsehoods.
Even in regards to its background, Kubo twists ideology to fit a modern interpretation. Ancestor worship is common in the Shino religion, but those who are gone still exist as spiritual beings who can help the living. In Kubo’s world, ancestors – who are shown onscreen as ghosts – are memories. Memories are nice, but cannot intercede on your behalf. “They never die as long as we remember them,” Kubo states. I would remind him of Wood Allen’s adage: “I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live in my apartment.”
Kubo has received huge critical acclaim, largely for the quality of its animation. This is a fair opinion; the animation is breath taking, full of color and life. The writing, voice acting, and music too are spectacular. However, these qualities only make this film an even sadder tragedy. With ParaNorman and Boxtrolls, Laika has had a bad track record recently of promoting New Age progressive spiritual values, and Kubo reaches a new low point. If Pixar is the pinnacle of Hollywood animation, Laika is the bottom of the barrel. What a waste.

 This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on August 26th, 2016.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Shattered Innocence

Pete's non-dragon family
“Shattered Innocence”
A Review of Pete’s Dragon by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating, Three Reels            

            It was not a difficult task to make 2016’s Pete’s Dragon better than the original as the 1977 version is easily one of Disney’s worst movies – if you remember that film fondly from your childhood, I invite to listen to just the first song. Yet even if it had been a success, this year’s adventure would probably still have been better. It’s rare to see a movie strike the perfect tone from the first few minutes, then successfully carry it through to the end, even if the story is completely predictable. The sad part is that, like its two protagonists, this Dragon doesn’t fit well into any niche and will likely disappear as soon as it is seen.
            In the first act of predictability, poor young Pete (Oakes Fegley) finds himself another victim of a Disney opening. Orphaned and abandoned in the woods, he is befriended by a friendly Dragon he calls Elliot (John Kassir). Six years later, he is found again by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a kind-hearted forest ranger, who wants to help Pete. The rest is easily guessed: Pete wants to go back to the woods but can’t, Elliot is worried about Pete and goes looking for him, a hunter who sees Pete wants to catch him, a finale occurs that involves a little bit of danger but not too much, and everything works out for everyone, even the hunter. One can imagine the plot of Pete’s Dragon being similar to a ridiculously easy game of connect-the-dots. Yet the acting, writing, cinematography, score, and visual effects are so good, it’s hard to notice.
            Most Disney films involve a sense of lost innocence as children deal with adult problems, but it has never been shattered in such a dramatic way. In the first scene, Pete – barely five years old – reads a picture book about a lost dog as his parents drive through a windy forest road on vacation. They are happy and safe. Suddenly, the father swerves to avoid a deer. In the backseat, everything goes into slow motion. Pete looks puzzled, then curious, as he notices the items next to him floating in the air. He knows nothing of death or suffering and is unaccustomed to laws of physics. He smiles at the new world of upside down objects. Then the crash. Pete walks away from the wreckage and looks back, somehow knowing his parents cannot follow him. He realizes his world is over, and there is nothing he can do. Yet he saved by a supernatural creature. Again, due to his age, he finds nothing extraordinary about this, only grateful to have a friend. Only later does the audience learn that Elliot too is lost, and their common experience bonds them as friends in pain.
            When Pete is thrown almost violently back into the world of his species, he has no idea how to behave. He is alone again until Grace and her daughter manage to reach out to him. Unfortunately, the phenomena of feral children is quite real, with many documented cases. These poor children, who lived on their own for years with or without animal help, are so psychologically damaged that it is nearly impossible for them to successfully integrate into society. Beyond these rare cases, how many children have been abandoned, purposefully or accidentally, only to die far from the eyes of society. Indeed, every person is lost from original grace, far from Eden. Pete’s Dragon allows its characters to feel this loneliness deeply and demonstrates how it is only comforted through positive relationships: friendships, romances, and spirituality. This follows from the first scene to the last.
            Grace is skeptical of Pete when he talks about Elliot, but her father is not. Played wonderfully by Robert Redford, he freely tells elaborate stories to schoolchildren about his battles with the “Millhaven Dragon.” “Just ‘cause you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there,” he tells her. “And just because you say something happened, doesn’t make it true,” she smirks. It’s easy to not believe when the story sounds fantastical, but as the facts line up, Grace confronts her father. It turns out that his stories were highly embellished, but not false. “I just stood and looked at him,” he says. The same is true of many things that seem impossible. When someone trustworthy experiences something supernatural, the first instinct should not be to disqualify it based on its improbability but on the character of the witness. Pete’s Dragon could have been told as a mystery where the dragon isn’t revealed until the end or even not at all. Including the dragon front and center from the beginning demonstrates that the Universe is full of the miraculous, and it’s our job to discover and believe it, not the other way around.
            Despite being wonderful overall, there was one specific element that grounded the film and took the audience out of the experience. Grace lives with a man named Jack. They have a large, multi-story house with a fireplace. They have a twelve-year old daughter together and read stories with her on the couch before they put her to bed. They love each other dearly. By any standard, they look and act like a married couple. Yet in a quick throwaway line, it is learned early on that Grace is Jack’s fiancé, not wife. This fact changes nothing in the story, and when it is implied they are married shortly before the conclusion, nothing about the relationships changes. There is absolutely no reason they should not be married. None except to prop them up as a “modern family” that is traditional in everything but name. This awful trend which had plagued Disney as of late is bad enough even when an important part of the narrative, but here is totally unnecessary.
            Pete’s Dragon is a lost film in search of an audience. It is too sentimental and small for adults, yet too serious and scary for children. Like its spiritual cousin The BFG, it will not make any money and be forgotten almost instantly. Yet like Pete and Elliot, it will find a second chance among those who browse the dark corners of Netflix and are willing to give effort in finding quality entertainment.

 This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on August 16th, 2016.

Much Ado About Nothing

Ain't afraid of no ghost
“Much Ado About Nothing”
A Review of Ghostbusters by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, PG-13
Reel Rating, Three Reels            

            It has been a bit perplexing to watch and endure the gargantuan amount of hype surrounding the second go-around for Ghostbusters, most of it negative, some it truly vitriol. It was all for naught. Ghostbusters is mostly funny, not too edgy, and always entertaining. This is a pretty good description of the original, and perhaps that’s all some fans had wanted. 
Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) plays a brilliant particle physicist hoping for tenure at a prestigious university. Her hopes are dashed, however, when she discovers that her old lab partner, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), is selling copies online of a dubious book on the paranormal they co-wrote years ago. Soon jobless, she joins Abby, engineer/quartermaster Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and street-wise Subway worker Patty (Leslie Jones) on a mission to discover why ghosts are suddenly popping up all over New York City.
For such a silly, slender premise, this movie generated some serious internet chatter. (Perhaps that really shouldn’t be surprising.) As of this writing, its trailer is the tenth most disliked video on YouTube, and the only movie trailer in the Top 30. Some criticism has focused on feminism and gender-bending, reacting to the casting of all females in previously male roles. This response is understandable in the context of a society in which gender theory has gone completely and wildly awry. Yet, in this instance, there is nothing about the characters that demands a specific gender and there are no serious romantic themes or storylines. Despite the cast, there was a significant lack of gender-related humor—an oddity for a Paul Feig film. Another possibility was burnout over an endless amount of sequels, spin-offs, remakes, and reboots. This is a better criticism as Hollywood has been franchise crazy as of late, but even the most original films depend on established storytelling patterns.
The most likely culprit is nostalgia for the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie. Often, a series is rebooted either because of poor reception for the original or because a significant length of time has transpired since the first outing. Yet Ghostbusters was a beloved classic that premiered only thirty years ago. It was nominated for two Oscars, had rave reviews, topped the box office for five consecutive weeks, and even was rated the 28thfunniest movie of all time by the American Film Institute. 
As a Millennial, I have a healthy sense of distance that may put this criticism into better perspective. Both films rely on the same sense of humor, created by SNL alums as an extended skit that found comedy in a dumb idea. Both of these films also succeed under the same parameters, and while they share a basic Universe, the jokes are completely different. If one needs any more validation, the new Ghostbusters contains no less than five cameos from original cast members. Sadly, the late Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis are missing.
As a stand-alone film, Ghostbusters is Paul Feig-lite. It has all his usual trademarks—Kristin Wigg, Melissa McCarthy, scatological humor—but is his first PG-13 offering. It’s funny but restrained. Especially good are McKinnon as a nerdy Gilligan type and Chris Hemsworth as Kevin, the objective beefcake yet incredibly stupid receptionist. Who knew Thor had such good comedy chops!
As a theologian, I suppose I should say something about the nature of ghosts, evil, and the paranormal. But let’s face it: Ghostbusters really doesn’t care. It’s a childish romp through gadgets and slime, and a pretty good one at that. In the end all the worry was much ado about nothing, and if you are a scholar of Shakespeare, you’ll find that joke really funny. 

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on July 28th, 2016.

RomComs Need an Attitude Adjustment

Alice and Tatiana, not Mike and Dave
“RomComs Need an Attitude Adjustment”
A Review of Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, R
USCCB Rating, O
Reel Rating, Two Reels           

            It must be said for the sake of honesty that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a really stupid movie with many immoral qualities. Yet in this same spirit, it must also be said that my wife and I, enjoying a rare moment without our children, had a wonderful time. Even when following the common conventions of the genre and adjusting content for adults, respect for common decency must always remain. While certainly entertaining, Wedding Dates ignored this fact many times, not enough to be considered a total disgrace but enough to sour an otherwise sweet and enjoyable romp.
            Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave (Zac Efron) Stangle, your typical late twentysomething man-children, are brothers still living in a rundown apartment selling their own brand of liquor with dubious marketing techniques. They have a bad history of ruining family events, so their father insists that they bring dates to their baby sister Jeanie’s wedding. “I don’t want you going stag and riling each other up,” he fumes. Fortunately, she is the only thing they love more than lighting fireworks from their crotch. Their quest goes viral after posting a craigslist ad, insisting they only want “nice girls.” This catches the attention of the equaling irresponsible twentysomething woman-children Tatiana (Audrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick), who feign respectability to get a free trip to Hawaii. Yet things quickly get out of hand as their ruse unravels and the Stangle boys find themselves in more trouble than ever.
            Here is a confession that should never leave the mouth a respectable male, but after science fiction, romantic comedy is my favorite genre. The act of falling in love is an awkward yet gentle dance with misinterpretations and farce, best summarized by Owl from Bambi:

You're walking along, minding your own business. You're looking neither to the left, nor to the right, when all of a sudden you run smack into a pretty face. You begin to get weak in the knees. Your head's in a whirl! Then you feel light as a feather; and before you know it, you're walking on air. Then you know what? You're knocked for a loop, and you completely lose your head! It can happen to anybody. So you'd better be careful.

The joy of this adventure is seeing how the couple, or in this case couples, will eventually get together. Love involves letting someone in and letting yourself out, which is always uncomfortable. Yet the other person is doing the same, and that is what creates great comedy.
Wedding Dates begins promisingly by having the girls in on the secret before the boys. Think Some Like It Hot but with vastly inferior dialogue. The word “dialogue” is used specifically because the story process and character development is pretty sophisticated, but there seems to be a five f-word per scene minimum. The best aspect is the acting. DeVine, Efron, Plaza, and Oscar-nominated (and Twilight alum) Kendrick are all young actors at the top of their game. Plaza especially is a comic genius who could make the New York phone book sound funny.
The setup is incredibly well done and holds tremendous promise, yet at almost exactly halfway, it crashes, burns, and only occasionally recovers. It is far more graphic than necessary, well beyond its R-rating. A perfect example is a scene where Alice, in her own friendly but disturbed way, discretely pays to get Jeanie a massage with a bit more than usual. It’s a scene that could be funny if handled properly, but instead the audience is treated to something that would make Hugh Hefner blush. It does not serve the story and takes the viewer completely out of the experience. Comedy often involves upsetting social norms but must happen in a manner that does not offend. Wedding Dates is full of scenes that offend, offend again, and keep going.
Surprisingly, these characters, despite their poor behavior, remain entirely loveable and even profound at times. They are all damaged and act out because they have no other outlet. They deserve a film that challenged their shenanigans rather than indulged in them. Then they would get a happy ending that didn’t involve scented candles and regret.

Something We Should Remember

Hank and Dory
“Something We Should Remember”
A Review of Finding Dory by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, G
USCCB Rating, A-I
Reel Rating, Three Reels            

            Finding Nemo, which at one time was the highest grossing animated movie ever, marked the beginning of a seven year stretch of nearly flawless movies that made Pixar the most prestigious company in the business. It’s amazing it took them thirteen years to get here. Perhaps it is fitting, however, as the first film wrapped up so nicely. It was so good that Finding Dory’s premise is based on a single line of dialogue from the original. It begins with a nearly identical idea to the original, searching for Dory’s family instead of Marlin’s, yet takes the premise in quite a different but welcomed direction. Finding Dory a film that didn’t really need to happened, but probably a good thing that it did.
            Dory’s most recognizable quality, aside from unwavering optimism, is that she suffers from “short-term memory loss.” This characteristic was a source of humor in the original, but here its implications are taken much more seriously. As a child, Dory’s parents worried about her ability to survive outside their care, and rightly so. In classic Disney fashion, she is traumatically separated soon afterwards before meeting up with Marlin and Nemo in adulthood. A year after their adventure, Dory begins to have flashbacks to her childhood and decides use these pieces to find her parents. Thus, our heroes are off on another whirlwind adventure, this time including British seals, a near-sighted whale shark, a chatty clam, and the “voice of Sigourney Weaver.”
            Though a ton of ocean fun, Finding Nemo was permeated with a profound sense of loss. That is here too, but with an added layer of realism. Dory’s handicap is the central emotional force of the story. Like parents children with autism or physical disabilities, Dory’s mom and dad find alternative means to help her remember like songs and special objects. Perceiving that she like seashells, they create a small path back to their den, so Dory can find her way when lost. Marlin, however, is dismissive of his friend, believing her totally incapable of the task ahead. Yet time and time again, Dory proves him wrong, not just by her determination but the subconscious memories planted through these techniques.
            Dory’s new companion, once she discovers her parents may be in a Californian rehabilitation aquarium, is Hank the disillusioned octopus, voiced by Ed O’Neill. A close cousin of grumpy cat, he does not want to return to the ocean and agrees to help Dory in exchange for a trip to a permanent exhibit in Cleveland. He harbors a deep fear of the outside and all other beings, wanting to be in a place “where nobody can touch you.” Unlike Dory, Hank is extremely mobile and resourceful, able to slime quickly across the ground, camouflage into anything, and swing from pipe to pipe through the air like Tarzan. Dory sees that he is broken, just like her; his paralyzing phobia prevents him from living a healthy life and connecting with others. This journey will bring him “home” as well.
            I’ll leave it up to the viewer to discover whether Dory in fact finds her parents, but this is not really the point. In an amazing coincidence (or perhaps not), Finding Dory is in theaters at the same time as You Before Me, the infamous pro-euthanasia rag masquerading as a romance movie. Dory presents an alternative lesson. Yes, those who are disabled can present difficulties and require methods of learning and living often foreign to the rest of society, but their soul is the same. Even more so, they wear on the outside the evidence of original sin that all of us possess. They deserve not just the love and dignity shown to all people, but the “preferential option” that Christ commands.
            Finding Dory is a delightful treat: fun and adorable if a little predictable. Nearly every parent will cry at some people, but I suspect a few quite a bit more than others. If you see this at the theater, pray for them. If you are friends, hug them.

This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on June 29th, 2016.