“And I suffer from short-term memory loss”: understanding presentations of mental health in Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Finding Dory through communication theory of identity

Understanding presentations of mental health in Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Finding Dory through communication theory of identity

Hayley T. Markovich

Disney-Pixar has built an empire anchored in the medium of animation. Animated film can provide the viewing audience an outlet for understanding people and popular issues. One way that animated movies, specifically Disney and Pixar films, have functioned in this capacity is the changing representations of characters with various levels of physical and mental abilities. In 2003, Pixar introduced audiences to a brand-new undersea world through the film Finding Nemo and then again in 2016 with Finding Dory. The undersea world in these films is overflowing with characters exhibiting different disabilities (e.g., Nemo and his smaller fin, a seahorse with a water allergy). While many of the characters have physical disabilities, both Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) struggle with mental health (Dory with her short-term memory loss, and Marlin with PTSD). Though two main characters have lived experience with mental health issues, Dory is the one remembered for her diagnosis. Pixar Animation Studios has been celebrated for its willingness to give disability, especially mental health challenges, high-profile exposure via the character of Dory (Heady, 2016). Dory is an important character to study because of her evolution as a comic relief sidekick in the first film, to leading titular character in the second film.

In popular culture studies, it is understood that media products such as films shape and reinforce current values and beliefs (Nachbar & Lause, 1992). As cultural products, films are meaningful in relation to broader contexts, institutions, and discourses because they help form our social knowledge (Edgerton, Marsden, & Nachbar, 1997). Children’s and family films, such as Disney films, have been a key area of study for scholars because of the potential implications for children’s exposure to the characters and storylines that can influence how children navigate their own experiences (Wills, 2017). Due to Disney/Pixar’s association with films meant for children and families, it is likely that these films indirectly help children understand certain viewpoints and realities. As such, both Finding Nemo and Finding Doty's inclusion of disabilities, especially mental health experiences, is important to study because of the potential implications for what children may learn about mental health from the films.

People understand our experiences and what is happening in our worlds through language. Yet, according to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, language determines a speaker’s perceptions and resulting categorization of their experiences (Kay & Kempton, 1984). Studying film portrayals of mental health experiences shows how society relies on labeling elements it finds mystifying or threatening (Beveridge, 1996). This ultimately includes labeling and identifying neurodiverse individuals, such as defining Dory by her short-term memory loss. Sometimes these labels can be negative and lead to nonacceptance of these individuals, especially if they are depicted or understood as threatening. Neurodiverse individuals are more than their diagnoses.

According to communication theory of identity (CTI) (Hecht, 2015), identity is performative and not just a result of communication. Using CTI, this study seeks to explore Dory’s complex identity as a neurodiverse character. Specifically, through analyzing Dory’s neurodiversity at the different levels of the CTI this study seeks to understand how Dory’s view of herselfbecomes more positive, even while other characters and audiences still define her by her neurodiversity.

Film as a cultural indicator

Beginning in the 1970s film studies literature “include[d] the ‘public visions’ of popular filmmakers, ‘box office’ and industrial factors, and the idea that a movie says as much about its audience as it contributes to the development of its art form” (Edgerton et al., 1997, p. 1). When applying a sociocultural tradition to film studies, it is important to note that the cultural context trumps the medium. According to Edgerton, Marsden, and Nachbar (1997), film is a cultural product and form of social knowledge that is meaningful within its relationship to broader contexts, institutions, and discourses.

Popular culture is mass produced, available for the largest group of people, reflects and shapes current beliefs and values, is commercial, imitative, and is part of our everyday lives (Nachbar & Lause, 1992). In fact, “the health of a society is directly reflected in the liveliness and quality of its entertainment” (Inge & Hall, 2002, p. XVI). In popular culture, the work of art, film, or other media produced appeals to the mass audience’s tastes and indicates a status quo in culture (Himmelstein, 1981). According to Hall (1977), the dominant view of what is acceptable is constantly gaining legitimacy through shaping and producing consent from the public through the media. Gail Dines (Sun & Picker, 2001; Brode, 2005), meanwhile, contends that people who have been socialized by society and have internalized norms and values from that society write Disney scripts. The scripts and work produced express these norms and values unless they decide to operate within another ideology. Therefore, Disney films are not free from stereotypes or assumptions. However, to step outside of the dominant societal ideology, the creators must make the choice to do so.

Previous studies of Disney films

As mentioned, children’s film has been the focus of various studies regarding how they portray and describe characters, because of the view that there are possible implications for children’s exposure to these characterizations. According to Wills (2017), cartoons offer a childlike view of the world that helps influence how children navigate their own experiences. The Disney Company has promoted various fundamental notions and ideals that have shaped American mass culture, including universal love, good conquering evil, happy endings, a Protestant-style work ethic, absolute morality, and traditional family roles (Wills, 2017). Studies of these films have dealt with character portrayals and behavior. Previous research indicates children learn and internalize traditional gender roles from television and film (Witt, 2000). These studies have found demonizing or attributing a character as evil was based on certain character traits, including negative emotional states and queering or gender transgression (see Lawson & Fouts, 2004; Fouts, Callan, Piascntin, & Lawson, 2006; Li-Vollmer & LaPointe, 2003). Making villains out of those who are not “socially acceptable” enhances the positive gender qualities of heroes and heroines (Putnam, 2013).

Other Disney film studies look at positive behaviors within the films. Disney films have a high level of pro-social behaviors, and though these acts were rarely paired with aggression, targets were more pro-social with friends and helped those like themselves (Padilla-Walker, Coyne, Fraser, & Stockdale, 2013). Overall, it is important to note that Disney films portray both positive and negative behaviors that could influence how children act in real life. Disney films have also previously indirectly taught audiences about intellectual disabilities through the characters of Gus, LeFou, and Dopey from the films Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White, respectively. The characters do not need to be expressly stated as having a disability for audiences to pick up on the differences; the characters’ traits reveal their status and audiences make those connections (Schwartz, Lutfi-yya, & Hansen, 2013). According to Scherman (2011), children’s cinema can be used as a signal that social change has occurred in mainstream society. Given that films increasingly include neurodiverse characters, and characters with varying abilities and disabilities (like in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory), it is possible that a social change on the topic has happened.

Communication theory of identity

Communication theory of identity (CTI) articulates a layered perspective of identity whereby identity is performative and not just a result of communication (Hecht, 2015). In other words, we act out our identities when we communicate. This theory stems from the views of many scholars including those who viewed communication as an element of identity that is influenced by our social interactions (Goffman, 1959). Our self-image does influence our level of confidence and accuracy in communication (Gergen, 1971). Current scholars such as Bergen and Braithwaite (2009) have also followed along the thought line of identity as performative.

Communication theory of identity recognizes four layers of identity - personal, relational, enacted, and communal - that comprise our complete identity (Hecht, 2015). In the personal layer, the individual defines himself or herself. The relational

“And I suffer from short-term memory loss ” 21 level defines identities in terms of relationships, other identities, and how others see an individual. The enacted identity is how our behavior expresses who we are. Lastly, the communal identity focuses on how society defines identities. These communal identities are larger than the individual person and instead describe cultures and societies. According to Hecht (2015), we learn about this layer from larger discourse including media representations such as, but not limited to, film. It is important to note that these different identity levels do not exist independent from each other. Instead, they are interdependent and are constantly influenced by each other. CTI has been used qualitatively to study different groups and cultural identities from bilingual speakers, to intergenerational familial relationships (see Heinz, 2001; Kam & Hecht, 2009). As a theory, CTI is useful in improving relationships and getting people to understand each other. Applying CTI to presentations of neurodiversity, such as in the films featuring Dory, provides an avenue for not only understanding the presentations within the film (personally, relationally, and enacted) but also how the film is understood more widely (communally).

Method

Klinger (1997) proposed a new addition to the academic area of reception studies called histoire totale, or total history, which aims to put the film(s) studied in larger cultural contexts. This is accomplished in either a synchronic or diachronic method. A synchronic focus believes the object of interest has multiple histories. Specifically, this is studied in three zones: cinematic practices, intertextual zones, and the social and historical contexts (Klinger, 1997). Cinematic practices are “primarily all of the practices associated with film production, distribution and exhibition that shape the film the audience finally sees” (Klinger, 1997, p. 115). Intertextual zones are focused on the influences between film and practices outside the film industry in other media and businesses. Lastly, the social and historical context looks at the social processes that can impact what a film means publicly. Diachronic studies look at the film’s total life span through revivals and retrospectives, reviews, academic theory, criticism and history, television, video and laserdisc reproduction, fan culture, biographical legend, and cross-cultural reception (Klinger, 1997). While not the only way to study film, total history provides a way of engaging with the film to understand its role as a cultural object.

Cultural texts, such as films, are inherently polysemic resulting in multiple meanings. As such, this study will employ Klinger (1997)’s diachronic total history. Under total history, there are three zones: (1) cinematic practices, (2) intertextual zones, and (3) social and historical contexts. These zones were explored through applying Hecht’s CTI to provide a more detailed understanding of how Finding Nemo and Finding Dory depict neurodiversity through the character of Dory.

To complete this study, the author watched and transcribed each of the two films, specifically looking for instances in which Dory’s lived mental health experiences were present in the films. The bonus feature content on both the DVD and Blu-ray discs was also watched and transcribed for moments that focused on

Dory’s character and specifically her mental health. To better understand the films and their reception, the author also collected reviews from major newspapers and YouTube videos reviewing the films. The videos were found by searching the terms “Finding Dory Reviews Verified” on YouTube. Videos were included for this part of the analysis if they came from verified channels on the platform.

The analysis focused on the four levels of Hecht’s CTI. After watching the films and the bonus features and reading through the reviews and watching the review videos, the author coded the data by highlighting the transcripts and categorizing them into the four levels of CTI they corresponded to.

Results

Instances in the films were found to correspond to all four levels of CTI. The individual, relational, and enacted levels were present in the films themselves. The communal level was found in the bonus features and film reviews.

The individual level of CTI and Dory

When considering the individual level of CTI, it seems Dory does not define herself as someone with a mental illness. She instead views herself as someone who will not let any setbacks that she does experience from her memory loss affect her. She sees herself as someone capable of helping Marlin find his son in the first film, and as capable of finding her family in the second film. Even with her memory loss, Dory can help get Marlin and herself out of some precarious, dangerous situations in Finding Nemo. In Finding Nemo, Dory can read. Her ability to read the word “escape” frees her and Marlin from a dangerous situation involving a trio of sharks. This ability also helps the two characters learn where to find Nemo after the diver takes him from the Drop Off. While Marlin is most concerned about the location of 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, Dory is excited that she remembered something instead of forgetting as she normally does. Later in the film, what Dory considers her ability to speak whale also helps the two characters out. At one point, they need directions and Dory begins to ask a whale. As a result, they find themselves in the whale’s mouth. When the quest to find Nemo seems doomed, Dory’s ability to speak whale comes in handy again when she helps convince the whale to let her and Marlin go. Dory is so certain that she can help Marlin, and while sometimes her “helping” sets them back in the quest to find Nemo, ultimately Dory proves helpful just like she believed. In Finding Dory, Dory can now remember, which once again makes her feel good about what she can do. Her memory is triggered by certain experiences in the present day that flash her back to events from before she was separated from her parents. The more Dory remembers, the more she grows confident in her abilities and her quest to find her family. Dory’s confidence in what she can do increases so much that, by the end of Finding Dory, she is orchestrating the plan to rescue Marlin and Nemo from the truck traveling to the aquarium in Cleveland. Even when Dory fails to do certain things in different situations, she immediately turns to things she can do to help. Overall, by the end of the films, she believes so much in herself that she accomplishes more than even she thought she could.

Relational level of CTI and Dory

While Dory’s self-view is positive overall, it competes with others’ more negative views of her. Right from the opening scenes in Finding Dory, Dory is identified as neurodiverse. Baby Dory is instructed by her parents to introduce herself to others by saying, “Hi, I’m Dory and I suffer from short-term memory loss.” When she repeats that statement back to her parents, they applaud her for getting it right. Even though her parents celebrate her successes, they stop her from swimming off to play with other fish to ask if she remembers the rhyme they taught her about the undertow, which could potentially take her away from them should she get caught in it. She ultimately forgets and makes up incorrect rhymes instead. She then notices her parents looking at her worriedly. To them, she is her memory loss. They are far less confident in Dory’s abilities and therefore worry about her.

Other characters view Dory as more unpredictable and thus frustrating. In Finding Dory, due to her memory loss, the young Dory is separated from her parents and seeks help but is left alone in the end. The film then fast-forwards to Dory at various ages beginning as a baby up until adulthood swimming around asking other fish if they have seen her family, letting the audience experience the first tropes Pixar relies on for this installment: the individual as victim, and as dangerous. In one instance, baby Dory asks a husband and wife fish if they can help her find her parents. The female fish immediately feels sorry for Dory, saying “oh you poor thing.” She views Dory as a victim who cannot help that she is in this situation. They cannot understand why she keeps forgetting and repeating things she has already said. By the time the husband and wife decide to help her, Dory is gone. This continues with other fish throughout Dory’s life. She asks other fish for help but they either ignore her or they volunteer to help but, due to her short-term memory loss, she refuses the help. Ultimately, because she is different, the other fish seem to mistrust her, leaving her alone.

Additionally, when analyzing both films using the relational level of CTI, Dory is at first seen as a character who can be manipulated by others. In Finding Nemo, when Dory and Marlin come to a dangerous-looking trench, Dory is convinced they need to go through it while Marlin thinks it is best to go over it. The audience knows Dory is right due to a school of fish telling her these directions, though she cannot remember how she knows to go through the trench and not over. Marlin, who does not trust Dory, convinces her he knows best. It turns out he put them in danger because they now must navigate through a wall of stinging jellyfish. Dory suffers an injury because, unlike Marlin, she is not used to the stings. At the trench, Dory told Marlin he needs to trust her, because that is what friends do. Yet the friendship Dory thinks they have is one-sided, with Marlin instead taking advantage of her memory loss.

In Finding Dory, meanwhile, Dory is once again manipulated by Hank the Septopus (an octopus with only seven legs). Dory has a tag on her fin signaling that the next morning she is going to be placed on a truck headed to an aquarium in Cleveland. She does not want to go because she wants to try to find her parents. Hank, on the other hand, wants the tag so he can live in an aquarium display instead of going back to the ocean. Originally, Dory refuses to give up the tag, but Hank takes advantage of her forgetfulness by claiming that he will help her look for her parents in exchange for the tag. Both Hank and Marlin take advantage of Dory’s memory loss to benefit themselves.

However, the more time Marlin and Hank spend with Dory, the more they learn to appreciate Dory and see beyond her memory loss. In the first film, when Dory is hurt by the jellyfish stings, the viewer finally sees Marlin show concern for Dory as he realizes that his decision to swim over the trench was wrong and led directly to her injuries. Later, in Finding Dory, it seems as though Marlin is now learning from Dory; he follows Dory’s “Just Keep Swimming” mantra and adopts the attitude of “What Would Dory Do?” Following these lessons that he learned from Dory, Marlin can grow as a character. Even at the end of the film, Marlin tells Dory that he is proud of her for finding her way home. Hank, meanwhile, becomes Dory’s sidekick in Finding Doty, joining her in her journey to the exhibit where her parents live. He slowly accepts her crazy plans to get there and even trusts her to save them both from potentially dangerous situations. Hank slowly realizes that Dory is capable, and both he and Marlin come to understand that Dory’s illness does not define her.

Enacted level of CTI and Dory

Dory’s individual and relational identities combine to create her enacted identity, or how she behaves in the world. Depending on whom she is interacting with determines if her enacted identity is positive or negative. When she interacts with characters who do not see her as capable, her behavior indicates a negative enacted identity. When she interacts with characters who see her as more than her memory loss, her behaviors become much more positive, therefore giving her a positive enacted identity.

At times, especially at the beginning of each film, Dory’s memory loss is presented as unacceptable. It is not something the other characters like, so Dory acts accordingly based on the feelings and influence of others. During Dory’s first appearance in Finding Nemo, she apologizes to Marlin for her memory loss. When an exasperated Marlin tells Dory she has already mentioned a boat, Dory gets quiet and says, “I did? Oh no.” Thus, Dory apologizes for the fact that she has short-term memory loss that runs in her family (at least she thinks it does). By apologizing, she is adopting a role as the weaker individual, assuming a more secondary position behind Marlin. Instead of owning her disability and being proud of it, she automatically feels the need to apologize. Even in Finding Dory, Dory’s memory loss is initially portrayed as something bad. In the film, Dory tells herself not to be such a Dory. In this way, Dory’s enacted identity has been negatively influenced by the perceptions of others. Being forgetful and unhelpful has become synonymous with being “Dory.” Both her name and her memory loss, two things that help establish who she is, have become conflated into something undesirable.

On the other hand, Dory’s interactions and relationships with other characters who support her help her form a more positive self-identity and develop more positive behaviors. While these characters that encourage positive behaviors are sometimes fully abled, they are often those who also live with disabilities. Some abled characters that support Dory from the beginning are the school of fish that tell her to swim through rather than over the trench in Finding Nemo. When interacting with Dory, the school of fish encourages her, seeing her as more than just her memory loss. When they initiate a guessing game with Dory, moving into formations as a group to assume the shapes of various objects, they celebrate her responses and continue with the game even when she provides the wrong answer or takes a while to respond. Additionally, these fish trust her with the ability to tell Marlin what to do when they reach the trench. They have a faith in Dory that builds her confidence.

Frequently, though, the characters that bring out Dory’s positive enacted identity are those who live with disabilities themselves. Nemo, especially, remains in Dory’s corner even when other characters doubt her. Nemo sees Dory as part of his family and, therefore, as someone he wants to support. In Finding Dory, Nemo acts as her cheerleader, helping her remember things she has forgotten in her quest to find her parents. For example, when Dory, Marlin, and Nemo wind up in a dark kelp forest that Dory finds familiar, Nemo encourages her to call out for her parents in the hopes that they will hear her. Additionally, Bailey and Destiny, whales who live in the aquarium where Dory grew up, also help her, encouraging her when she faces tough obstacles in her quest. When Dory winds up lost in the pipes of the aquarium, Bailey and Destiny speak to her through the pipes to help her navigate the maze and reach her destination. The characters with disabilities band together in a system of support that truly helps bring out the best in each of them.

Communal layer of CTI and Dory

While Dory gives some high-profile exposure to neurodiversity, she is a specialneeds fish surrounded by other characters that also experience some sort of mental or physical limitation. As a result, her neurodivergence and the importance of having such a character in the two films is less impactful. According to Andrew Stanton, the film’s director, “I wasn’t trying to literally say she’s a representation of a specific [disability]. I just wanted to show that this one thing that was funny and helpful in the first movie, (Dory) saw as a burden. And she had to apologize for it” (Heady, 2016). Yet it seems that the individuals at Pixar did not want the message of this film to be solely directed at children with disabilities; to them it takes on a larger message of parents knowing that their children, regardless of ability, will be fine (Heady, 2016).

Pixar driven content such as the bonus features included on the films’ DVD and Blu-ray releases are also helpful in understanding the Communal Layer of neurodivergence in relation to these films. Specifically, the current analysis considers the deleted scenes to gain more understanding of where Dory’s characterization originates. In the deleted scenes, the viewer hears from director Andrew Stanton as he explains what happened in these scenes and why they were cut from the film. In one deleted scene, Dory takes Nemo to visit the stingray migration parade and loses him in the process. This scene was originally intended to amplify her lived experience with short-term memory loss, not to create a whole new problem for the film (Deleted Scenes, 2016). This scene took the focus from Dory’s experience and made it more about losing Nemo again. In another deleted scene, Dory’s parents also experienced short-term memory loss. Yet, according to director Andrew Stanton, having three characters with the lived experiences of memory loss proved a chore for the creative team and was deemed not as funny or interesting as it could have been (Deleted Scenes, 2016). A last deleted scene showed Dory’s memory loss as a weakness; while trying to ask some hermit crabs if they have seen her family, a hidden giant squid claims to be her uncle just so he can capture her (Deleted Scenes, 2016). Overall, while there are other deleted scenes included on home video releases, these three scenes indicate some of the issues the film’s creators faced while trying to tell the best story for Dory. Dealing with a character with such a disability can be difficult, but these three scenes indicate that those working on this film were unsure how to let Dory stand on her own and carry an entire film.

More of the same feelings come to light when viewing the bonus feature titled “What Were We Talking About” (2016). This feature, through interviews with the Pixar team members involved in the production of this film, offers insight into the filmmakers’ thoughts about Dory as a character. Specifically, this bonus feature reveals how difficult the filmmakers found trying to make a side character that forgets things instantly, into a main character that can carry a plot (“What Were We Talking About,” 2016). Here viewers learn Dory’s memory struggles are rooted in the fact that director Andrew Stanton heard that goldfish have five-second memories. While Dory is not a goldfish, Stanton thought the tidbit about goldfish memories was funny and wanted to include it in the film. Overall, it seems as if the filmmakers felt Dory’s memory loss could not be taken away or cured because it defines her. It is her character identity. She began as comic relief to help guide Marlin across the ocean in Finding Nemo, but when she moved into the titular role in the sequel film, her identity as the fish with memory loss needed to remain.

Even though the bonus features to Finding Dory reveal the filmmakers’ struggles when transitioning Dory to a lead character, film reviewers understand Dory’s neurodiversity differently. The reviews fall into two camps, the first being those that recognize the impact of letting a neurodiverse character take center stage, and the second comprised of those that still see Dory’s memory loss as a joke. For those that see the focus on Dory’s neurodiversity as positive, her characterization is taken seriously and even praised. For example, Brown (2016) writes:

“Suddenly, short-term memory loss is something we should treat with a bit of gravitas. Now that Dory understands the profundity of what her condition has caused her to lose - a home, her parents - we can no longer dismiss it as a cutesy punch line.” While Dory’s memory loss serves as her handicap, it is also the key to her resiliency as a character, which makes Dory a relatable figure for parents of any child with special needs.

Other reviewers seem to have difficulty redefining her role as a leading character rather than a comic relief character. Some reviews still use terms to describe Dory’s memory loss that do not necessarily show a true understanding of her neurodiversity. One review called her absentminded, while another termed her neurodiversity as a learning disability. Still others think Pixar misses the comic potential with Dory’s disability due to its limits or by politely not exploiting it (Seitz, 2015; McCarthy, 2016). Reviewers that fall into this category tend to consider Dory irritating, claiming that the character could not and should not be expected to carry a movie on her own. While Dory’s forgetfulness served the storyline well in Finding Nemo, in Finding Dory, it annoyed both the adult characters in the film and viewing audiences. In fact, reviewers tended to appreciate and praise the secondary characters, such as Hank the Septopus, rather than Dory herself, even though the storyline revolves around her (Murrell, 2016; Atchity, Duralde, & Lemire, 2016; McCarthy, 2016). It becomes clear that while reviewers recognize Dory is a major character with something more to say than just her well-timed jokes and comments alleviating the effects of Marlin’s stoic, pessimistic personality, they take to the change with varying degrees of acceptance.

Discussion

According to the foundational Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the structure of languages determines a speaker’s perceptions and resulting categorization of their experiences (Kay & Kempton, 1984). In other words, we understand our experiences and what goes on in the world by the words we have at our disposal. For neurodiversity, many of these original and lasting labels and views were particularly negative. Although human beings have a practice of labeling things for easier understanding, the labels we have used in the past do not accurately depict the complexity and truths of neurodiversity. CTI (Hecht, 2015) articulates a multilayered more complex understanding of identity. When analyzing films, such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory through the constructs of CTI, a more detailed understanding of neurodiverse identities can be understood. By using CTI as a lens to study Dory’s complexity as a neurodiverse character is revealed. While she holds a positive view of herself and her abilities, it is influenced by her social interactions. Additionally, while the film reviews and bonus feature content indicate that Dory’s depiction is not perfect, there is still something to be learned from the portrayal of her character and the interactions she has. By having a largely positive portrayal of neurodiversity in blockbuster films like these, it indicates a potential shift in how we as a society are understanding mental health and neurodiversity, to become more inclusive and accepting. By having Dory portrayed in the way she is, and to see her identity (both performative and communicative) change depending on who she interacts with, the viewing public can learn more about the identities of those who are neurodiverse. Having characters like Dory and films such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory can hopefully lead to more accurate and inclusive understandings of neurodiversity.

Conclusion

With Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, Pixar introduced audiences to a sea full of characters with an array of abilities and disabilities. One key character was the blue tang fish Dory who had short-term memory loss. Across both films Dory’s role changed from comic relief to leading character with a title role. Dory ends the films by growing more confident in her abilities, refusing to let her short-term memory loss define her. By analyzing the films and additional related content using CTI, we see that Dory holds a positive view of herself and her abilities, which is impacted both positively and negatively by who she associates with. Both identity levels combine to create her enacted identity (what we see in the films as the stories progress). The filmmakers’ discussions about the film and the reviews about Finding Dory show that we still have a long way to go for fair depictions of mental health in mass media to help create impactful change in the long term. Though this seems to be the case, the analysis using CTI reveals the intricacies involved in communicating mental illness and mental health as both a topic and an identity.

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