Continuing our look at films likely to be Oscar nominated for best animated film we thought we’d have a look behind what looks to be this years 2nd biggest earning film this year, ‘Finding Dory’. At the time the original film ‘Finding Nemo’ was the highest-grossing animated feature ever, and went on to become the biggest-selling DVD and though other films in the Pixar stable had had sequels this one did not and fans were growing impatient for one.
So in 2011, the director Andrew Stanton, (A Bug’s Life & Wall-E) rewatched his Oscar-winning Finding Nemo (the film won the best animated feature Oscar for Pixar as well as picking up a best original screenplay nomination for Stanton, Bob Peterson and David Reynolds) for the first time in almost eight years readying its 3D re-release. ‘I was really unsettled with Dory at the end of it. It really felt unresolved. It was this parental obligation I felt to this character I’d created, to be at peace” he said. ‘We have never made a sequel for the desire to further the franchise. The only movie we did that with was Toy Story 2, in its inception, and we almost made a horrible movie for it. [We] realised we should never make a sequel unless we have a story to tell.”
It was only after rewatching the original that Stanton realised that he had a story worth telling in a sequel. “I knew internally [Dory] was a tragic character, even though she was the one generating all the humour in the movie,” he explains. “As a writer you fight hard for years to come up with a main character who has that much complexity. It was all just sitting there and I felt like I needed to have closure for this character.”
By June 2012, Stanton hired Victoria Strouse to work on the script with him. “I thought it would be not only a family story, but a story dealing with sisters,” he reveals. “So I wanted a female perspective. [Victoria] turned out to be so good. Right off the bat, I could take some of the pressure off having to be the lead writer and that gave me much more focus to be the director. We had a first draft by early September of 2012.”
At the time, Stanton was finishing off the Disney disaster that was John Carter, which had been his live-action directorial debut and it was a catastrophic commercial failure with Stanton admitting that he suddenly had “a lot of time on my hands” which gave him the opportunity to work on the script for the Nemo sequel and as far as Pxar were concerned the script is everything and consequently Dory’s underwent as many as 10 drafts as it passed through the company’s strict 18-month to two-year development process with the director using storyboards to fine tune the story which included an adopted sister for Dory – a character that became Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark and Dory’s childhood friend – while Dory’s parents also had short-term memory loss.
“Dory, in the [first] movie, says, ‘I suffer from short-term memory loss. It runs in my family.’ I felt I had to stick to that rule and I thought, How tragic would it be that they would forget Dory? They would have this feeling of loss and maybe would come across an abandoned whale shark and adopt her out of their own instincts, so Dory would have been replaced,” Stanton notes. “It all made sense, but having three characters with short-term memory loss, trying to have a conversation, is the most annoying thing in the world. You think it might be funny, but it’s not. So I decided, You know what? Dory remembered wrong. And we’re going to free ourselves of that rule.”
But problems still remained even after two years of development and the need to start producing finished animation was pressing. The main problem was a major narrative issue that had yet to be repaired. “There was some glass ceiling on why our story wasn’t getting better,” Stanton admits. That the problem was a protagonist with short-term memory loss. “There were a lot of plot changes but none of these were huge factors. The big thing that started to reveal itself [was] we were never getting that deeply, emotionally, invested in Dory. We finally deduced she never self-reflected because she couldn’t remember things. She couldn’t express the growth that was going on. But how to solve it turned out to be just as difficult. We never found one answer. We had many small answers. And those trickled in almost to the last minute.” Incredibly even by November 2015 the diretor was still making notable changes to the story which came in the form of several flashbacks of Dory as a young fish. “That was probably the last piece to fall into place,” Stanton notes. “To be honest, we’re always working to the bitter end, but to have that big of an idea that late is not fun.”
13 years after Nemo CG animation technology has vastly improved with the biggest difference being the ability to animate water. “Water was very hard to capture and get right and very expensive, and when you look at Nemo there are very few shots where we actually show water. Most of the water is a magic trick where we make you think you’re underwater. You can now do it easily, so I went to town. I would say every five minutes of Dory is the entirety of what we could do in Nemo.”
Finding Dory was released in the US in June to great acclaim and so almost inevitably fans now want a third. Stanton, doesn’t rule it out but is unlikely to direct it. “Will there be another one? I’ve stopped saying never, but I have now spent eight years with fish. That’s a fifth of my life. I don’t really want to spend another four years with fish, as much as I enjoyed those eight. Hopefully somebody else will – if there is that great of an idea.
Quickly he was asked about the casting of Sigourney Weaver, a quirky bit of casting as she played herself as the voice of the marine park Dory finds herself trapped in.“There’s always this wonderful left-of-centre idea that ends up sticking,” explains Stanton, who had previously cast Weaver as the voice of the ship’s computer in Wall-E. “We tried it at a screening and it was hilarious, [but] thought this will never fly for so many reasons. It’ll be too weird for half the audience or it’s only funny to us at Pixar. And Sigourney probably won’t want to do it. We kept it in because it was always a good laugh and it reminded us, ‘If we’re going to replace it, we’re going to have to replace it with something just as funny.’ Then we realised she should be the voice for the entire park and it became clear we could make it more thematic. That’s when I finally had the guts to call Sigourney. She only took one session and got everything recorded.”
As for the casting of Dominic West and Idris Elba as sea lions? ‘My thinly veiled excuse to get a Wire reunion’ laughs Stanton.