Filmmakers Dive In Again 13 Years After Dory’s Deep-Sea Debut.
Director Andrew Stanton is always on the lookout for a new story. His imagination has taken him under the sea and beyond the stars, but this time, a character from his past unexpectedly swam straight into his subconscious.
“I realized that I was worried about Dory,” he says of everyone’s favourite forgetful blue tang. “The idea of her short-term memory loss and how it affected her was unresolved. What if she got lost again? Would she be OK?” says Stanton, who has been a major creative force at Pixar Animation Studios since he became the second animator and ninth employee to join the company’s elite group of computer animation pioneers 1990, wrote and directed the Oscar winning Finding Nemo and WALL•E.
Adds producer Lindsey Collins, “Dory seems so happy, but she was never really grounded until she met Marlin. Their happenstance meeting and subsequent friendship marked the first time since she was a kid that she had a family.”
Family is a key theme in Finding Dory. “We learn when we first meet Dory that she can’t remember where she’s from,” says Stanton. “But she must have a family. Her confusion got a laugh when she said in the first film, ‘Where are they?’— but there’s a sad truth to that. I knew there was a story worth telling.”
Finding Dory welcomes back to the big screen everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang Dory (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) living happily in the reef with Marlin and Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence) about a year after their life-changing adventure. When Dory suddenly remembers that she has a family out there who may be looking for her, she recruits Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks). and Nemo for a life-changing adventure across the ocean to California’s prestigious Marine Life Institute (MLI), a rehabilitation center and aquarium.
In the effort to find her mom and dad, Dory enlists the help of three of the MLI’s most intriguing residents: Hank, a cantankerous octopus (Ed O’Neill) who frequently gives employees the slip; Bailey, a beluga whale (Ty Burrell) who is convinced his biological sonar skills are on the fritz; and Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a nearsighted whale shark.
Deftly navigating the complex inner workings of the MLI, Dory and her friends discover the magic within their flaws, friendships and family.
“It’s amazing to me that Dory has resonated with people so much,” says Ellen DeGeneres, who lends her voice to the funny fish whose motto “Just Keep Swimming” has inspired and motivated audiences worldwide. “Dory was such a big part of ‘Finding Nemo’ that it makes sense that people might wonder about her journey. We want to see how it worked out for her. Are Marlin and Nemo her family now? Does she have a family and will she ever remember them?”
Filmmakers were eager to answer questions about Dory’s past. “She has that natural desire to know who she is and where she comes from,” says Stanton. “I always had ideas about Dory’s backstory, and we decided the time had come to explore that with her.”
“Dory’s short-term memory loss, while a source of comedy before, has very real consequences for her,” adds Collins. “She spent a lot of time alone before she met Marlin. She’s always upbeat and perky, but deep down she’s afraid of what might happen if she gets lost again. While she struggles to deal with her shortcomings, she has no problem accepting everyone she encounters. She doesn’t even realize that she’s surrounded by characters with their own hurdles to overcome.”
“The story is really about Dory finding herself—in every way,” says Stanton. “She’s compelling and vulnerable and has yet to recognize her own strengths.”
While the conclusion of the 2003 Oscar-winning film “Finding Nemo” left filmmakers and fans perfectly satisfied, director Andrew Stanton had the realization there may be some unfinished business worth exploring. “Dory had wandered the ocean most of her life,” says Stanton. “Because of her short-term memory loss, she couldn’t remember anybody she’d met, but she had emotional memories—she always remembered how it felt. And she was repeatedly left with a compounding feeling of separation and loss.
“Her optimism and helpful nature are a defense,” continues Stanton. “It is an unconscious armor she presents in hopes others won’t tire of her challenge and ditch her. When we first meet her in ‘Finding Nemo,’ one of the very first things she says is ‘I’m sorry.’ She just assumes that somehow her short-term memory loss has caused a problem and she’s quick to try to mend it. That, for me, is really juicy stuff. That’s somebody that deserves to feel better about themselves; that’s a main character with a story to tell.”
“It’s a story about family,” says Ellen DeGeneres, who lends her voice to Dory. “It’s about finding the courage to do something she’s always wanted to do—even if she couldn’t remember she wanted to do it.”
According to Stanton, the story crew initially showcased Dory as lighthearted, bubbly and funny—attributes that certainly apply to the character, but left her lacking depth. “She seemed a little two-dimensional,” says the director. “I realized that even though I had her full backstory in my head, nobody else did—including the audience. Everyone walked away from ‘Nemo’ with fond memories of how funny she is. But I always saw that as a mask. I realized we’d have to fill in the audience about what happened to her when she was young.”
“Finding Dory” reveals that Dory has a loving mom and dad who dote on their daughter, patiently helping her manage her short-term memory loss. “They don’t try to change her,” says Stanton.
“They just want to help her own who she is. Being a parent and seeing my kids grow up and enter the world, I realize that kids are all born with certain temperaments, flaws, quirks—and it’ll always be who they are. You probably spend most of your time as a parent worrying about those things, too—you don’t lose sleep over the things they do well. The best quality I could give Dory’s parents is that they never doubt her.”
Despite their best efforts, young Dory gets lost. “She wanders the ocean for most of her life,” says Stanton. “And slowly forgets why.”
A massive stingray migration cruises through their neighborhood, triggering Dory’s memory. “The experience is viscerally similar to an event that separated her from her parents so long ago,” says Stanton. “She’s flooded with memories and suddenly very motivated to track down her family.”
In an effort to maintain Dory’s drive to find her family, filmmakers had to first understand her memory issues. Says producer Lindsey Collins, “While Dory forgets details in her day-to-day life—like Nemo’s name—her emotional memory is fine—she knows she loves Nemo and Marlin. And the love she has for her parents has been with her all along.”
“The mystery of memory is so important to the story,” adds screenwriter Victoria Strouse. “Memory is a huge part of family—all of those seemingly meaningless or mundane interactions we all experience as children stay with us and shape our personalities. Dory possesses those memories—on some deep level—and accessing them is part of her ultimate journey of realizing that she’s not broken after all.”
According to co-director Angus MacLane, the memory flash marks the beginning of a new adventure. “It kicks off a quest—both internally and externally—to try to find her family,” he says. “But Dory feels that she can’t do it on her own, so she talks her newfound family—Marlin and Nemo—into coming along.”
Dory finds her way to the “Jewel of Morro Bay”—the Marine Life Institute (MLI), where she believes her family may be. The MLI is a rescue and rehabilitation center and premiere aquarium.
In the journey to the MLI, Dory finds herself separated from Marlin and Nemo, and must rely on her own intuition—as well as a host of colorful characters, appealing to each of them to help her on her quest. “I play a disgruntled octopus named Hank,” says Ed O’Neill, who was tapped by filmmakers to bring Dory’s chief wingman to life. “He doesn’t like anybody and just wants to be left alone.”
“We realized that Dory needed a foil,” says Stanton. “Dory was created in the first movie as a surrogate for Nemo. Marlin’s emotional journey to be a better parent called for a character like Dory to test him. Kids—and Dory—are very in the moment; they don’t think about the future too much. They take risks and have fun.
“For this film,” Stanton continues, “we needed a surrogate Marlin. Hank is a curmudgeon, an introvert. He really doesn’t want to be healed and sent back out to the ocean. He’d prefer a solitary existence inside an aquarium tank, so he’s trying to get himself into a more permanent installation.”
“Hank is smart, set in his ways and very cranky,” says DeGeneres. “He’s not happy where he is, while Dory is always happy wherever she is. There’s a great juxtaposition between these two; they’re complete opposites. It’s a great pairing because she is so innocent, yet pushes him to open his mind. They’re both fearful—though Dory doesn’t realize it. She just keeps swimming.”
Dory, Marlin and Nemo embark on a new adventure—this time to the California coastline—on an uncertain search for the family Dory thinks she left behind. Their journey leads them to the Marine Life Institute, where they meet a diverse array of sea creatures. “It really is a whole new chapter this time,” says director Andrew Stanton.