What would Dory Do?
It’s the theme that really stood out last week during a press screening of the new Disney•Pixar film “Finding Dory”, which swims into theaters this Friday, June 17th.
Sequel to the iconic “Finding Nemo,” “Finding Dory” features many beloved characters and some incredible newcomers. I had the opportunity to not only see the film early but also interview Disney•Pixar Supervising Animator Michael Stocker yesterday to get his unique perspective on the challenges and pressures of developing a new story 13 years later.
What would Dory Do? How does Dory respond after living happily for a year in the reef with Marlin and Nemo when she remembers she has a family who may be looking for her? Does she cower in fear because she can’t remember? Does she give up hope because the ocean is so huge? Or does she tackle the challenge head-on and with gusto?
The most positive little tang in the ocean, of “Just Keep Swimming” fame, immediately recruits her friends Marlin and Nemo for a life-changing adventure across the wide ocean to California’s prestigious Marine Life Institute in search of the parents she hardly remembers.
Stocker, who’s Pixar credits include animating the Academy Award®-winning feature films “The Incredibles,” “Cars,” “Ratatouille” and “Up,” and who served as directing animator on “Toy Story 3” and “Monsters University,” had much to say about this new project. As an animated film lover, it was fascinating talking to Stocker about his experiences on “Finding Dory” and his other films, but I had to ask him about the core message I pulled from the film: What would Dory Do?
“There’s something about the positivity of Dory that never lets any thing get her down, ” said Stocker. “She lives in the moment almost all the time. and maybe it’s partly because she can’t remember anything, but there’s something super sincere and pure about that. I wish I was more like that.”
No matter our “disabilities” or challenges, the core of “Finding Dory” is the message that we can do anything we put our minds to if we only try. Dory may have memory loss but when faced with a challenge she just goes for it. She’s a half-glass-full kind of fish. She’s not afraid of the bad that may happen, but sees the possibilities.
Stocker said, “There are times when I’m like ‘I just gotta keep swimming. I gotta keep going. I gotta get through this.’ There were times working on this movie when we were like, I don’t know what we’re doing and we just gotta keep moving forward. I think that her character embodies that … I kind of want to be like that. I want to know people who are like that … that to me is sort of why I love Dory and why I love this movie.”
Marlin, the polar opposite of Dory, continues to be his fearful cautious self. He weighs and measures everything but in this new adventure Marlin sees how his fear is getting in his way. He and Nemo begin to ask themselves “What would Dory do?” to encourage themselves to do what needs to be done.
I found a lot of nostalgic storytelling parallels between “Finding Nemo” and it’s sequel, which to me actually feels like a prequel and a sequel in one. We see an adorable Baby Dory and learn about her parents, through flashbacks but also flash forward to the new adventure ahead to find Dory’s old friends and family in California.
The story of Finding Nemo was very satisfying and according to Stocker, filmmakers did not originally intend for a sequel. But Director Andrew Stanton said, “She (Dory) 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.”
There were a lot of challenges when creating “Finding Dory” after so long. Because animation technology is so different the team basically had to start over. Also, the character herself and her disability posed challenges. “We’re making a movie about a secondary character and she has this problem and it’s a really hard problem for her and it’s also a really hard problem to make a film about. “ said Stocker. “What are you going to do in the 3rd act? She doesn’t remember anything … It was hard to unlock when to hold onto something, and when to give the audience enough information.”
Information was delivered through flashbacks that were not there when the team first started. They also completely animated and finished sequences that did not make the final cut. “We went down lots of paths … It’s this thing that sort of grows on it’s own and moves but it can be painful. We animated and lit and finished completely a sequence or two that you’ll see on the extras because they’re not in the movie … if you watch it just on it’s own it’s beautiful but it didn’t fit into the story that we wanted to tell and so it had to go.”
The film also teaches parents a valuable lesson about letting our kids go to learn and grow and become who they are. Dory’s parents believed if she ever got lost, she’d find her way back to them. In the film we learn so much more about Dory’s backstory, where she grew up and the connection with her parents, and those moments are tearfully touching.
“You automatically go to you and your kids and it’s just instantaneous,” said Stocker. “We try to find those real moments. If you can capture them, regardless of what it is, fish, cars, toys, that’s kind of where you’ve invested yourself in these characters so much and you’ve hit a nerve that’s real and it’s boom. It’s beautiful cinema. It’s amazing cinema. It’s so touching. It’s why I love animation.”
There’s loads of humorous new characters and beautifully cool animation, particularly with the octopus Hank, which Stocker said he’s most proud of in the film. “I’m so proud of Hank because I know how hard it was to animate that character,” said Stocker. The team spent a lot of time researching octopus movements and even visited a California aquarium to feel a live octopus and experience its movements. It’s very cool to see the results of their efforts.
In the new film, we also meet Dory’s old pal Destiny the beluga whale, and learn where Dory’s whale language originated from. And yes, she actually does speak whale!
Why See Finding Dory?
I highly recommend this film.
It has great pacing, emotion and humor. We laughed out loud many times and I teared up quite few times too. Most of the sequences are not scary at all, so kids of all ages should enjoy this film. There is such a strong connection with these beloved characters that it’s hard not to be pulled in.
There was one moment about 3/4 of the way through when I did feel a little lull. But just then there is an explosion of almost ridiculous (in a good way) Dory-worthy action. The ending is satisfying and fun.
If you or your kids have not seen “Finding Nemo,” I think that’s OK. This story stands on it’s own. But honestly you should watch it because that film is fantastic.
Lessons in Sea Life (Free Printables)
In addition to the lovely messages of the film, there’s also a lot of great sea life facts sprinkled throughout, which I think the kids will greatly enjoy. My kids love learning about sea life, don’t yours? Here are some wonderful free printable Sea Life Education packets and activities. Download at the links below.
Are you ready to see Finding Dory this weekend?