Admit it, out of Pixar’s entire filmography, the movie you thought would be least likely to get a sequel was Finding Nemo. Well, you’re not alone, as director Andrew Stanton was quick to share a few weeks ago standing in front of a small group of film journalists in a theatre located smack dab in the middle of Monterey Bay, California.
Like you probably, Stanton had seen the original film as a bit of a closed circle. There had been a clear ending and a clear beginning. Characters had grown. Dory wasn’t alone anymore. Marlin was a better dad, and Nemo was back where he belonged. That was it right? Well, for a long time it was. Until Stanton rewatched the film several years ago, and started thinking about Dory, and the tragedy of that character began to nag at him more and more.
It was only after a few years, that the filmmaker decided to act on his thoughts though, and not because he really wanted to make a sequel to Finding Nemo, one of Pixar’s most beloved films, but because in his mind, he wanted to make sure that the lovable, royal blue tang fish with a bit of a memory problem ended up okay. That she ended up happy.
And thus, Finding Dory was born.
Several years later, and now the studio is only a few months away from releasing the movie in theatres, to wide audiences, and open to criticisms from fans everywhere. But before that, Walt Disney Studios invited myself and a number of other film journalists to Monterey Bay, California, where a majority of Finding Dory‘s story takes place, to see some exclusive footage from the film and learn about the intensive, long filmmaking process behind one of Pixar’s riskiest sequels.
But what you should you know right away about Finding Dory?
Well, the first thing that we saw from the film was the opening sequence, which – while we’ve been asked specifically by Stanton to avoid spoiling – is both reminiscent of the film’s predecessor, and sets up Dory’s new journey perfectly. Right away, Finding Dory feels like a sequel worthy of one of Pixar’s finest films. In total, the group of journalists were shown about 20 or so minutes from the film, which included the previously-mentioned opening sequence, Dory’s meeting with Hank, a septopus that Dory runs into in at the California Marine Biology Institute (played by Ed O’Neill), the catalyst for Dory’s journey to find her forgotten family, and a touch tank sequence that feels eerily similar to the Sunnyside play time scene from Toy Story 3.
In watching those sequences as well, it became clear to me that while the film would be featuring a number of returning characters, incorporated into the film nicely, this would be Dory’s journey from beginning to end. Much like Marlin in the first film, Dory will need to make her way to her family mostly on her own, which is why for a majority of the film she is separated from the two clownfish (who had an entire subplot cut from the movie, Stanton revealed) in an aquarium she’s never been in before, surrounded by other sea life she’s never met before. For a forgetful fish, that can be a stressful time.
For Stanton though, making Dory the lead of the story was difficult as well, since initially she was created as a supporting character, someone who’s always there to hold the other character up in a scene. In order to do that, then Marlin and Nemo and her had to be separated. Otherwise, as the director astutely pointed out, she wouldn’t actually be able to grow or learn ever. The plus side of having Dory go on her own journey though, is the inclusion of new characters that she can meet and form bonds with. Where Marlin had Bruce and his non-fish eating shark friends, Crush the surfer sea turtle, and more – Dory will have her own ragtag group of new characters to meet.
From the footage I’ve seen of the film as well, I’d prepare yourselves for the dynamic between Kaitlin Olson’s Whale Shark Destiny and Ty Burrell’s Beluga Whale, Bailey, who in their introductory scenes alone had the entire theatre of journalists hunched over with laughter.
When asked about how many new characters were created for the film as well, and then how many the filmmakers ended up going with, Stanton replied with the following:
“Hank came very early from our writer, Victoria Strauss, and she knew Dory needed a foil and some, and we also realized just physically we needed somebody ambulatory that can actually move Dory across manmade stuff but then you start doing enough research, whether it’s online or going to aquariums like we did and you just start seeing creatures and it’s kind of casting by sort of a visceral thing. But then you start doing enough research, whether its online or going to aquariums like we did and you just start seeing creatures and its sort like casting by a visceral thing. We saw Beluga Whales and I just found them so endearing and Whale Sharks are so cool, and there’s a bunch of other things that are very local to just this coastline that you can take advantage of. The list is always longer than what you can put in the film, I mean technlogy probably wouldn’t allow us to do half the creatures that we do in this film, which is nice.”
The film’s producer, Lindsey Collins added:
“The running joke on our crew is any time I put something on a T-shirt or a hat for the crew, it would immediately get cut. I’d put something on it and they’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s not in the film anymore.’ The last shirt we had had, I’m not even kidding, probably 80 things all listed out that had all been cut throughout the movie.”
Where the story had to be updated and the characters had to be as well, the film’s aesthetic and look had to be improved as well, simply because the technology has evolved so much since the first film’s release, which at the time was a technological achievement of its own. Taking place almost entirely underwater though (even if it might be in fish tanks sometimes), this meant that the look of the film had to be even more detailed before.
Which allowed the filmmakers to incorporate Pixar’s new Renderman software to create more detailed architecture and animation than in any other Pixar film yet. Nearly every single underwater shot of the film contains almost thousands of refractions and beams of light coming in from the surface of the ocean that you simply couldn’t have seen in 2003 or 2004, and I think it’s safe to say that Stanton and co. have managed to tow the line perfectly between upgrading the animation and camera movements of the film, while also not making it look too different from the original, something we were lucky enough to see exemplified well in an almost shot-for-shot duplication of a scene from Finding Nemo that appears near the beginning of Dory as well.
Like with every Pixar film though, the characters and the story take the top priority on the project, and sometimes the characters alter the story in interesting ways, and sometimes they can alter the story in ways that might not be the best for the film’s production process either. In case you needed any more proof of that as well, Stanton revealed that the ending for the film was just recently figured out a few weeks ago, from an idea that had been scrapped near the beginning of the process.
As you can probably imagine as well, changing the film’s ending just a few months before its theatrical release is a bit of a hectic and monumental decision, and something that required major scheduling magic on Pixar’s part in order to get Degeneres and Albert Brooks to record their lines for the scene. Check out what Stanton had to say about the ordeal below:
“Now it all looks different and it plays different, but it’s going to require six lines from Ellen and five lines from Albert and we can’t get them anymore. So we had to go down to her show and get her in the middle of the day and pull her to a closet really quickly with a microphone in between meetings and get five lines.”
I think normally, the biggest problems with sequels and my biggest fears going into practically all of them, is that they didn’t happen organically and weren’t shaped that way either. That they’re created simply to become a franchise for the studio to make money on. It’s a big fear, and it’s one that I legitimately had about Finding Dory, due in large part to my overwhelming love of the original film.
Which is probably why the number one thing I took away from my days of learning about the film, and the number one thing I think you should know right away about Finding Dory, is that this is a sequel made for the characters, and shaped by them from beginning to end. The lovable fishes from Finding Nemo have not come back to simply give more money to Pixar and Disney, they’re back and thankfully, it’s so they can finish the story they started back in 2003.
I’ll admit it, I never thought I’d see a sequel to Finding Nemo. Now that I’ve seen some of Finding Dory though, I may end up being happier about it than I ever thought I would be.
Finding Dory will be released on June 17th.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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