Finding Dory Is Perfect, Except When It Isn’t: Gerald and Becky

Finding DoryThis weekend “Finding Dory” opened to enormous box office success, which is important for a sequel driven by a female character. My family and I join in on the positive reviews, we all really loved the film.

Except for one really important part.

The movie offers marginal gender balance (two of the six main characters are female) but the film redeems itself by depicting the female characters as the heroes (Dory, Destiny, Becky). It is a beautifully animated, so much so my kids kept turning to me asking “is this real life?”

The story has a central theme – the importance of family bonds, those we are born to and those we make along our journey in life. My husband and I were very touched by tender moments between Dory and her parents (the lines of sea shells, anyone?). No matter what path you take in life, love will bring you home.

Friendship, courage, empathy, self confidence, and teamwork all are strong story components. As the character arcs play out we see different vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies of many characters, especially our main characters. Destiny the whale shark has poor eyesight that impacts her swimming, Bailey the beluga is super dramatic and convinces himself his sonar does not work, Marlin is his usual pessimistic self, Nemo has his little fin, and Hank the octopus (actually, a septopus due to a lost tentacle) is terrified of the kiddie touch pool and the open ocean. Most obvious of all is Dory’s short term memory loss, and we see her struggle to overcome this while being open about her condition and unafraid to ask for help.

Dory and her amazing parents.

Dory and her amazing parents.

As the film played out I was touched by the way Pixar showed Dory’s parents teaching her in ways that gave her the skills she needed to be independent and “normal”. I have a daughter with anxiety and I completely identified with having to do things differently in order for my girl to feel like she could do what all the other kids were doing with ease.

Having a kid who is different is not easy.

It was heartwarming how the six main characters accepted one another’s quirks and encouraged one another to triumph despite them. In many ways, the film can serve as an important vehicle to opening meaningful conversations about disabilities and differently abled people.

Unfortunately two characters were not afforded the same inclusion and acceptance, which left me feeling very uncomfortable with certain scenes in the film.

Finding Dory's sea lions Gerald, Fluke, and Rudder.

Finding Dory’s sea lions Gerald, Fluke, and Rudder.

Gerald is a sea lion who is goofy looking, does not speak, and moves and behaves in a way that differs from the other two sea lions we meet, Rudder and Fluke. In fact, we see Rudder and Fluke bully Gerald. All for laughs from the audience. Their behavior isn’t used as a teachable moment, instead the neuroatypical Gerald is used as a punchline.

 

Gerald

Gerald is tricked out of his beloved green bucket.

Schools and parents do a lot of work these days to teach kids to stand up to bullying, to be an active witness instead of a silent bystander, and to recognize the power of kindness. Gerald’s character could have been treated much differently and still been silly.

I know kids who are a Gerald. They aren’t punchlines. They are human beings who do not deserve to be bullied nor ostracized.

Becky is a loon with a bizarre appearance and she behaves differently from the rest of her flock. While her character serves a purpose, her “differentness” is again exploited by Rudder and Fluke. Marlin is openly hostile to her. Her appearance is meant to be jarring, and we see characters react strongly to her with little tact or respect. Becky doesn’t talk but she does make strange noises, another punchline. In a movie with only two of the six main characters cast as female, and two of the five side characters as female, it would have been nice to have Becky portrayed differently.

Becky looks and behaves strangely, and is mocked for it.

Becky looks and behaves strangely, and is mocked for it.

The movie makes the distinction if you are different but look and behave mostly “normal” (Dory, Nemo) you are accepted, but if you look or act oddly you are the butt of the joke and used by the other characters. Gerald and Becky are most definitely outsiders. This post and this post do a nice job of explaining why this made many viewers uncomfortable or downright upset.

David Chen for slashfilm.com summarized the scenes very succinctly: “Both of these characters feel like cheap jokes. For the kids that are in the audience, they send a pretty clear message: It’s okay to laugh at people who are different, or who aren’t as smart as you are. Sure, Dory is differently abled. But she doesn’t fundamentally look/function different than most of the other characters in the film. Becky and Gerald, though, are fair game. For a movie that’s all about how anyone can achieve anything, that’s disheartening and inconsistent.”

There are a lot of kids who are Gerald’s and Becky’s. I don’t think they are jokes. I think more often than not, they are the best of us. 

My friend Jennifer and I were discussing this aspect, and her words perfectly sum up my feelings on Gerald and Becky’s roles: “I really, really struggled with the Gerald character. It made me absolutely cringe. I wasn’t happy with it and it seemed completely unnecessary. At least Becky, they show how the world looks through her eyes (literally) and they portray her as someone who is a useful member of that society. But the mocking and bullying of Gerald? Totally not OK.”

I know Gerald’s and Becky’s so I talked to my kids about this aspect of the film. I’ve been bullied, it is a miserable experience. This is a wonderful family film and your family should go see it. The good messages definitely outweigh the bad, but the bad messages still need to be addressed. When our children know better they can do better.

I feel like a fish out of water for saying something negative about a film that is so widely loved. And I did love the love the film. But I don’t love cruelty, and frankly our nation has enough of that going on right now. I know there are kids off the screen who could be negatively impacted by the acceptance of treating Gerald’s and Becky’s cruelly. With a platform the size of Pixar’s I would have appreciated if respect and inclusion had been a tenant throughout the film.

Like Charlie taught Dory, “There is always another way.” Let’s choose instead to take good care of each other.

13246296_10153429033517131_2474661485922461678_oMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing! I watched a movie this weekend with my 9-year-old son, Like Mike 2. Sequels are never as good as the originals! But one adult character, who was totally out of step (awkward, a player, inappropriate, no moral conscience), got locked in the trunk of a car at the end of the movie…to get laughs.

    My son and I agreed that, although the character was annoying, he didn’t deserve that. It was mean, and it was bullying.

    Thank you for calling this out. I’ve been looking forward to this movie, but I’ll be sure to discuss this with my kids after we see it!

    Marie

  2. I have Asperger’s and how the Gerald and Becky characters were treated/portrayed did bother me a lot. But the thing which stuck out to me the most was the scene where the little girl gets knocked down by the stroller and cries — and neither of the main characters in the scene reacted at all — they should have at least yelled “Sorry!” as they passed, if only to show the kids in the audience that mowing someone down isn’t something that should be ignored. I also didn’t like how Hank kept shaking Dory to get her to focus.

    I know that not all films can be perfect in every way, but it seems that the makers of this film had a multitude of chances to make a point/teach good behavior/etc., and failed at many of them.

    My favorite part, in which I think the filmmakers succeeded in teaching a lesson, was showing how much the animals dislike being handled [much like those of us on the spectrum].

    • Panya –
      I had completely forgotten about the stroller scene when the little girl gets knocked down and cries! Yes, that bothered me as well, as did the constant shaking. Both of those could have been teachable moments, instead it was further reinforcement of negative behavior.

      Your comment about not liking to be touched, true for both animals and folks on the spectrum, is spot on. I thank you for your insights and for helping people to understand.

    • Actually, Dory does yell “Sorry!” right after her and Hank knock into the child. I thought that that moment was a bit extreme for a second until I heard Dory apologize and that diffused it for me.

    • David Morris says:

      The little girl getting knocked down was absolutely hilarious, kids aren’t special little snowflakes who need pandering to – In life your always gonna get knocked down by someone, but you need to pull yourself up and deal with it.

      Not have a 10 minute scene apologizing and explaining its “oh so wrong”

  3. Haven’t seen film yet Dory yet, but wanted to point out that in Finding Nemo..Nemo has a small side fin (“his lucky fun”)and his father teaches him to embrace his difference and learns to overcome it.

    • I think you missed the point. Melissa was saying that, unlike Finding Nemo, the parts of the movie where differently abled people are portrayed, they weren’t used as a lesson but as a joke. That’s the problem. Jokes do not lead to embracing differences. They turn the people into jokes themselves.

  4. Seriously. Its a kids movie. Use it as a teachable moment. Get over it. A little bulling makes kids tougher and less of a wimp. I was bullied alot and it made me stronger. Stop coddling your kids, have a conversation about this and move on. You are dwelling on the dumbest stuff.

  5. Casey garvey says:

    Can I just say that it is getting pretty ridiculous that everything is picked apart like this today. In my opinion Becky and Gerald were the best parts of the movie. I was literally crying from the laughter!! I am so tired of everyone whining about the stupidest things! It’s a cartoon!!! Get over it!!! After everything is made into these perfect cartoons and movies you are creating in your minds…. There will be nothing left to laugh at. You need to lighten up and learn how to laugh. I’ve worked with special needs kids my whole life and if please don’t think for one second that we don’t laugh with them about silly things they do….

  6. I think you missed the point about *both* the characters. In the end, both Gerald and Becky get their due. Gerald ends up on the rock, and it’s shown, quite clearly, that had Marlin *listened* to Nemo and *trusted* Becky, they would have gotten where they needed to go.

    Personally, I *loved* Gerald and Becky. They are perfect examples of characters who look weird, but in the end, triumph. You can just see the negative, but if you pay attention, those characters are both actually quite positive.

  7. I think we’re making mountains out of molehills. Yes, Fluke and Rudder are mean to Gerald. It happens in life. It’s not Pixar’s job to teach our kids how to act. It’s the parents’ job to say “Look, those guys were being mean. How would you feel if you were treated in that way?” But Gerald does get his just desserts, something that was not mentioned in your post. As for Becky, we’ve seen Marlin has a difficult time communicating with others. Becky does not respond to his hostility (as she shouldn’t), but when Marlin finally speaks to her with less aggression, she helps him out because they’ve “imprinted”.

    Research has shown that those within the disabled community (and those outside of it) are still very much ableist. That is, disabilities we can see are often treated worse than those we cannot. The fact that Nemo is treated “normally” throughout the movie is not because he looks “normal” (he was treated as incapable and impaired throughout his screen time in “Finding Nemo”), it is because the characters that know him have accepted his disability over a period of time. While Nemo may look different but be treated normally, Becky and Gerald are new characters to Marlin and thus he has no idea of their limitations and challenges.

    Finally, I don’t think you understand the difference between main and side characters. A main character has the majority of the screen time (Dory, Marlin & Nemo). A minor character has a recurring role but is not present in the majority of the scenes (Jenny and Charles, Destiny, Hank, Bailey). Although there are fewer female characters on these lists, it is perfectly acceptable. Pixar cannot retroactively make Nemo a female, nor can they give Dory two female parents. Although Hank and Bailey could have been made to be female, isn’t it more satisfying to have male characters showing rational fears that stray from the “Macho” personas we’ve seen before?

  8. Thanks for the great article! It was really interesting to see your perspective on those two characters. Its true that Gerald and Becky are used for the punchlines, and Pixar wasn’t as sensitive to the interpretation of these characters. However, I think they redeem themselves a bit at the end. I don’t totally remember but doesn’t Gerald kick the other two sea lions off the rock? Kind of like he gets the last laugh in the end, or as though he overcame those who bullied him. And Marlin is pessimistic about Becky, but in the background, Nemo continues to defend her, saying Marlin didn’t trust her. In the end Becky pulls through and helps them, kind of like a don’t judge a book by its cover message. That was way interpretation of it. I’m glad you brought this point up for discussion and I’d love to know what you all think.

  9. You should stay until the end next time. Gerald ends up winning after the credits :).

  10. Mr. Realistic says:

    Gerald and Becky were the best part of the movie. Its funny, retards are funny. Different IS funny. If your kid is a retard too, i hope this makes them stronger so they dont grow up to be pussys like their parents!

  11. Shannon says:

    While I see your point about Gerald, this didn’t even occur to me while watching the film and I’m an adult, not a kid. So I doubt most of the children who see this film will think that the takeaway point was that bullying is ok. I also have anxiety, and I wasn’t offended. And while Marlin didn’t have faith in Becky (because he doesn’t have faith in anyone) other characters stood up for her. It saddens me that gone are the days when people could actually enjoy movies and not nit pick every little thing and be offended. It’s just a movie. I choose to think about the glass being half full: yeah Becky and Gerald were different, but still good about things and included in the group.

  12. Kiki Flee says:

    IT’S JUST A MOVIE! I do not take my kids to animated films to learn life lessons. I take them to be entertained and that is exactly what we were, ENTERTAINED. If they learn that type of behavior, it will be from the several hundred HUMANS they encounter a week, not from 2 animated walruses!!! It’s my job to teach them, not a movie’s.

    • Kiki Flee says:

      Also, Gerald ended up on the rock – a WIN for him and Becky ended up saving the day, becoming the hero, regardless of the bullying situation. Oh and Dory did apologize for knocking the little girl down.

  13. Crystal says:

    They dont have disabilities or human disorders. They’re just strange animals like many Disney characters. You are the ones calling kids Becky and Gerald, the movie is not. Our generation of easily offended cowards will never be satisfied.

  14. Great article. I am so with you.

  15. As much as it might have been a *cringe worthy* moment when Gerald and Becky, the girl being knocked over, or even the constant shaking, I feel that parents can make use of these opportunities to teach their kids about values that the movie might not necessarily have portrayed in an explicit manner. Positive examples can be great teaching moments, but negative examples here can also show kids that the world is not all that perfect, and that there may be instances which we may not approve of, but yet we can do something different about it.

  16. You guys take things far too seriously. Just enjoy a movie without breaking everything down. I was bullied as a kid and not once did that cross my mind while watching this film. Why? Because it’s make believe. It’s not like they were making fun of an actual person. It’s a computer image for God’s sake.

  17. Christopher says:

    Please stop over analyzing movies for once. You bring up a point like raising is hard which is irrelevant. Also you said the to sea lions bully the thrid goofy looking one. Please stop my autistic cousin said it was one of his favorite parts. Also please remeber this is a pixar film one of the most innocent and careful companies out there. They wouldn’t do anything like that on purpose and was never ment to be interpreted like that. Also you said you know people who are Gerald which is labelling which completely goes against what you were saying. You also called them weird looking sea lions. And the are SEA LIONS they don’t have the same morals as us. If its there rock it’s there rock.

  18. Mamaof2 says:

    Why can’t you just take it for what it is, a cute movie. Unfortunately the world isn’t perfect either and you’re going to have some assholes and unfortunately they’re going to try and make someone who is different the butt of a joke for being such, but unfortunately that’s how are society is…we are taught was is normal and what is odd and when people act odd the ones who don’t understand and arenot exactly sure what to do take that and turn it into a laughable moment to break the tension. I’m not saying it’s okay, byou any means, but it’s how our jacked up world is until it changes and we get enough people to stand up against something and for others rights.

  19. It’s a funny kids movie. Just laugh. Can we not poke fun at anything without someone being offended? Something you have failed to include is that these two characters are underlying heroes in the entire plot.

  20. Okay, but defining those children as “Geralds” and “Beckys” is another problem all its own. I see your point, and I empathize with it, but it’s important not to create those lines of Normal/Not Normal in the first place. Seeing everyone as equals is what needs to happen, but too often doesn’t. I aspire to be someone who sees all humans as equals, without regard to society’s standards.

  21. I felt that Becky’s character was not as problematic as Gerald’s. For Becky, she was undervalued and judged by Marlin because of her atypical-ness, yes. But, he learned he was wrong. Becky had skill and that came through. He’d judged her and undervalued her based on her appearance but the problem was not with Becky but Marlin and he came to realize that. (Bucket on the tree limb scene–ha!) So, overall… ok.

    And I disagree with your point about Becky being female as problematic. The title character is female! Destiny, the mom–great female characters. Many of the human scientists/workers–female. And they gave equal assignments of disabilities to males/females. In fact, I was pleased to see that the one whose disability was “all in his head” (the beluga) was a male!

    So… Becky being female? That was fine with me too.

    But Gerald. I was fully uncomfortable with this storyline. So much so that I turned to my special needs son worried that it was hurting his feelings. This storyline implied: it’s ok to bully those who are different. It’s ok to manipulate them for our own gain. It’s ok for those who are different to be a punchline of a joke and nothing more.

    Except in actually: SO NOT OK.

    Treatment of Gerald–ruined entire movie for me.

  22. I loved Gerald. I don’t understand why there have to be haters who expect a movie to be perfect and not show what’s in the real world.

  23. Or maybe it is in perspective. You can view it that way and those points are all valid and true (and unfortunate parts of life). But you can also take from it that both Gerald and Becky overcame the obstacles in the end (Gerald got the rock and as you pointed out, Becky is a hero), despite how they were treated, and how others thought of them. I have a career working with people with disabilities and so I understand the points you are making. I also think that it is just as important to teach kids that ANYONE no matter their abilities can be a victim of bullying and u fairness in life and that we can choose to let it define us or we can overcome it. We can’t prevent bullying or whatever else happens to our kids in life, but we can give them the support and tools to learn and grow from these things.

  24. Stephanie says:

    Oh good lord, I think it is you that has a problem. Why you associating Gerald and Becky as if they were human characters? They are animals and idk if you’ve seen animal planet recently but check it out on Sea lions ok, they are territorial and Disney captured it beautifully just like they did with the seagulls. Good lord. Why don’t you just sit down and put in veggie tales for your kids if you don’t like it. But I’m sure you’ll over analyze that to like this cucumber isn’t being very sensitive. Smh

  25. Wow… waaaayyy overly sensitive people…. I’m glad I was raised with a sense of humor. Other wise I would be out there like the rest of you… crying and whining… why not teach them to be able to laugh at yourself and instead of demanding people be nice show then what you’ve got. Geez louise… I’m so happy to be comfortable with my disabilities… and that my parents werent overly protective. The movie was great. The first one was great. Today’s “parents” are so far in the clouds….

  26. but didn’t nemo convince Marlin that Becky isn’t a joke ? & should be trusted? He even says the line “I trust Becky” & in turn Marlin literally puts all his trust in Becky to help them find Dory. She is also not THAT different from the other birds, maybe a little more disheveled but that’s more so to help her stand out in a crowd of nameless, equally vacant looking, speechless birds.

  27. As a young person, it amazes me how the generations above me are constantly looking for ways to find the bad in something. I don’t think these characters( Gerald and Becky) represented people with mental disabilities. It’s just a movie and some parts have to be made simpler for young kids to understand and an easy way to make them laugh is with one dimensional characters. People try so hard to find things wrong with everything

  28. Wow, you do take this way too seriously 😀 From what I know, Gerald is everyone’s favourite character among my friends, myself included. And if you really count how many characters along the way are/ are not female, instead of just watching, you either have some serious problem, or are simply bored by the movie.

  29. Michael Woodward says:

    Ok I’m really sorry but are you people crazy? Kids do not see films like this and think “Oh hey, this sea lion is being made fun of, I’m going to bully kids that look like him” or even things like “I get made fun of and this sea lion is getting bullied I hate my life.” Kids don’t think that. They think, “Haha this is a funny cartoon” and go on with their lives. I personally thought Gerald and Becky added a great humor effect to the movie. If anything, the other two sea lions (I forgot their names) treated Becky with respect. Terribly sorry if I offended anyone, but please know that kids’ minds don’t work like that. They don’t get in depth with details like this.

  30. Becky and Gerald are the best characters in the movie. If you take it for what it is you would realize that although people like you see them with flaws, normal positive people see that they are actually the strongest characters and see past the things that people like you point out.

  31. Their only purpose in the movie is to be the comic relif. Hence the strange characteristics. They only look like that to make children laugh. There not bullied. There are lots of funny, strange looking characters in a lot of children’s movies. If anything you are just automatically labeling them as “disabled” because they look different. Gerald and Becky are nothing more than goofy characters in a movie.

  32. You are trying to find an ocean in a puddle. Was it stated in the movie that Gerald and Becky had specific mental disorders? No. They’re goofy side characters and nothing more. Inane blog posts like this one are the reason why people can’t laugh at anything anymore. Quit trying to muzzle artistic expression because you feel offended.

  33. Thank you for this. We have two children with autism and we decided to pass on Dory this weekend after reading your review and then asking a few people who have seen it. They all felt the same as you about Gerald and Becky.

  34. I can’t believe you think Gerald is a metaphor for other children. He isn’t. He’s a funny character in a film. It’s only offensive if you constantly look to criticise an amazing movie. This movie was created for children not adults who are looking to pick holes in a movie. Its in a sea lions nature to be protective of their rock. They don’t let other sea lions on there and it’s not bullying. It’s what sea lions do. I’m sure Pixar are very apologetic about creating as realistic a movie as possible.

  35. First off, I have two children on the Autism Spectrum. My daughter loved this movie and laughed her little heart out. Gerald had anyone payed attention was well aware of what he was doing in aggitating and annoying the other sea lions in the film. Had you stayed to see the entire film which means after the credits rolled instead of jumping up to leave you would have seen Gerald as he touched the rock just to annoy the others. The majority of all the people complaining have zero understanding of Autism and until you do you should not condemn. Yes they are sneaky, smart, and know how to annoy the heck out of people just like Gerald knew and did. Please don’t make a child’s movie into your platforms to hate on something and to try and make yourselves feel good. This is a wonderful movie and if you teach your kids how to be kind from the get go, you need not worry, but if you or your kids are and have been bullies yourselves then I suppose you might get offended at watching how you must have behaved and your kids must have behaved. As for Becky the Loon, have you ever seen Angry Birds? Seen any movies lately because in every single movie out there you will find something you don’t like and don’t approve of…hey don’t go to the movies so the rest of us can enjoy the shows!!

  36. It’s a movie. It’s meant to be funny. Everyone reads way too into things and in today’s society you can be offended by anything. Just enjoy the joke!

  37. I think you are forgetting that the movie isn’t just for kids. many teens who were young when finding nemo came out were excited for a squeal. characters like becky and gerald are there for the older kids to have a laugh. like its not just catered for young childen and im sorry that you can’t accept that disney is throwing things in there for older kids who were born for the original movie.

  38. Hi, I have to agree but in respect of Gerald, curious to know if you stayed right till after the end credits, when he reappears with the Tank gang from the original film? He clearly appears to be happy getting the rock to himself following Fluke and Rudder wanting to see the chase for the van. it doesn’t undo what happened but it certainly made me feel happier for him

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