The highly anticipated “Finding Dory” rocked the box office with its opening weekend, pulling in an estimated $136 million.
As a sequel, “Finding Dory” seems to have risen to the high expectations “Finding Nemo” audiences had, but one new character in the film has a few people on edge.
During the adventure to find Dory’s (Ellen Degeneres) parents, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory bump into a host of characters, almost all of whom have some sort of disability. Hank (Ed O’Neill) the octopus only has seven tentacles, Destiny the whale shark has vision problems (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey (Ty Burrell) the beluga whale has sonar issues.
All of these disabled characters learn to live with, overcome or even use their disability to their advantage through the course of the film.
However, one character in particular doesn’t get the hero treatment.
Gerald (Torbin Xan Bullock) the sea lion is quite obviously a depiction of autism or diminished cognitive function. He doesn’t speak, and his vacant expression and dopey smile are pretty standards go-to’s for mental vacancy in cartoons. Gerald doesn’t move or think like the two other sea lions in the film, who are depicted as almost bullies as they pretty shamefully trick and mock Gerald for his disability.
Audiences were quick to point out that the treatment of this mentally disabled character — in a movie supposedly all about disabilities — seemed like a tactless move to win laughs.
There has been no word from the writers or producers about this issue yet, probably because the overall reaction to “Finding Dory” was overwhelmingly positive.
If, however, they do choose to address it, we’d be interested to hear their justifications for why Gerald was the butt of a joke rather than another hero of this disability-centric tale.