Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory takes place roughly a year after the events of 2003’s Finding Nemo, but places the focus firmly on the first adventure’s forgetful sidekick. The film opens when Dory, the loveable blue fish with short-term memory loss, begins having flashbacks to her childhood and the parents she’s forgotten. The memory triggers a need to search them out, with Marlin and Nemo going along to help.
While the movie is entertaining throughout, it really picks up once the three fish arrive at the Monterey Marine Life Institute that Dory used to call home. The institute is part theme-park, part rehabilitation center for injured animals. As such, Dory is not the only creature we meet who’s trying to go through life with a disability of one sort or another. The septopus Hank—an octopus who is missing a leg, a near-sighted whale shark named Destiny, and Baily, a beluga whale whose self-confidence is lagging after a head injury short-circuited his eco-location, all play an integral role in helping Dory navigate the Institute and search for her parents.
Marlin and Nemo also play their part, though they remain separated from Dory for much of the film. Despite the physical distance, however, they never give up on her and gain a new respect for her by the end of their journey.
That journey’s ending is perhaps predictable given that it’s a Disney/Pixar film, but it remains fulfilling and serves as a good reminder that, as A. O. Scott of The New York Times put it, often times “‘friends and family’ is a distinction without a difference.” Even though Dory’s search for her parents and the sense of identity that comes from that relationship motivate much of the movie, her connection to the other characters she meets along the way is really what stands out most. By the end of the film, it’s clear that family can, and should, be about so much more than shared genetics.
To its credit, many segments of modern culture have embraced this mentality. The concept of family often revolves less around flesh and blood than it does around emotional connections or a shared purpose. As a result, disparate people can form healthy and thriving communities, helping each other accomplish far more than they ever could individually and exuding the best qualities of what it means to be a family.
As Christians, our communities of faith should function in much the same way. When Scripture talks about what our relationships should look like, helping one another draw closer to Jesus, encouraging each other as we go through our daily lives, and bearing one another’s burdens are all central to God’s plan (Acts 2:42–47, Hebrews 10:24–25, and Galatians 6:2 respectively). If that’s the kind of family people could find in our churches, we’d have a much better chance of convincing the larger culture—which often does those things better than us—to listen when we tell them about Jesus.
So whomever you consider family today, remember what God wants those relationships to look like and then ask him to help you make whatever changes are necessary to emulate the kind of community he longs to create among us. Friends and family really can, and perhaps should, be a “distinction without a difference.” Will it be for you?