"Finding Dory" shatters stereotypes about disabilities

Ellen DeGeneres voices Dory in Pixar's "Finding Dory."

Disney Pixar

"Finding Dory" is not only shattering box office records. Some say the latest Disney Pixar movie is also breaking down stereotypes about the disabled, reports CBS News correspondent Reena Ninan.

That's thanks in part to the lovable but forgetful title character, Dory, who has suffered from short-term memory loss since she was a baby.

"She has a brain that works a little bit differently than everyone else's, but it also allows her to make connections that other people wouldn't, or see other things that other people might miss," said Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg.

In "Finding Dory," Dory is on a quest to find her long-forgotten parents and never lets her disability get in her way, even when her friends lose faith -- like Hank the octopus, who calls it "too crazy."

"What do you mean? Just tell me! I'm okay with crazy!" Dory tells him in the movie.

"And so the problem is not necessarily that Dory's brain works differently from other people's, but that other people aren't willing to extend kindness or be patient with her, or work with her on the terms that her brain works," Rosenberg said.

Some are seeing the film's "matter-of-fact" treatment of Dory's memory loss and her ability to take on any challenge as a breakthrough for Hollywood. Anna Schechter works for the Young Adult Institute, helping those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. She took a group to see the film over the weekend.

"The message was not lost. I think that as soon as we got out of the film, people said, 'she never gave up, she kept swimming, she did it!'" Schechter said.

Disney has a history of films that embrace the differences of their main characters. Dumbo's oversized ears allow him to fly. And even the title character in the original "Finding Nemo" puts a positive spin on his smaller-than-average fin.

But "Finding Dory" gives audiences a whole spectrum of characters who thrive in the face of their disabilities. Hank the octopus is missing a tentacle, Destiny the shark has vision problems and Bailey the beluga whale has trouble with his sonar abilities. But they all ultimately find their own special skills to help Dory get home.

"I love that message, too, that even your disability can be your biggest strength," Ellen DeGeneres -- who once again provides the voice for Dory -- told Entertainment Tonight. "So I was surprised to see how complex of a character she became."

"And so we don't see her as a tragic figure. We just see her as a person who's different. And I think that catching kids at an age when they haven't formed preconditions about disability and just encouraging them to see human variety and potential and opportunities to just have different experiences, is a really powerful thing to do," Rosenberg said.

Schechter said the group she took to see "Finding Dory" also got the film's subtle message about parenting. They liked that the movie showed how scary it is to allow your children to learn and take risks, agreeing that it was because Dory's parents were brave enough to believe she could find her way back home, that it was possible.