Oh, to be a fish with short-term memory loss. That’s the idea behind this 2016 undersea sequel to writer-director Andrew Stanton’s Oscar-winning Finding Nemo. On Nov. 15, Disney-Pixar will release its Ultimate Collector’s Edition Blu-ray and DVD of Finding Dory, featuring Ellen DeGeneres as the voice of the forgetful blue tang, who embarks on a quest to find her family, along with old pals Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Last week, we caught up with Stanton, the longtime animator and vice-president of creative at Pixar to talk about Dory, democracy, and why he doesn’t believe in talking down to the Disney set.
Is it true that you always envisioned Dory as a tragic character?
Yeah. I knew, as a writer, that she had a past that she didn’t know about. She was built around the needs of Marlin from the first movie. I needed somebody who would be incredibly kind and supportive and help him across the ocean. I read goldfish have a memory of three seconds, and that just cracked me up. But when I thought about the practical application of that — that’s a cross to bear. That would drive other fish crazy. So, she must have this vestige of feeling of abandonment again and again. She started to slowly sense that it must be her fault. To me, that’s what made her so friendly. It was her armor: ‘If I’m extra-nice to you, it may tip the scales and ensure you won’t ditch me.’ I didn’t put that on the surface, but I always made her happy and made you laugh all the way through Nemo, yet 50 minutes in, she starts crying and saying, ‘Please don’t leave me.’
Why did you decide to make Dory the star of her own movie?
I didn’t do it because I thought there would be a great sequel or that the franchise needed it. I did it because I had this character [who] hadn’t found her home yet. She still had that internal flaw where she was punishing herself unnecessarily — and I hated that. I realized I left that unaddressed.
Something Disney-Pixar does really well is take important, universal, difficult themes and talk to kids about them in a way that’s entertaining. Your 2008 film WALL-E, for instance, conveyed some serious messages about the environment.
I think we have an advantage in animation. The movies we make are for any age; we don’t dumb [them] down or consider just the younger crowd. We kind of make them for ourselves, but because animation tends to lead into fantasy, it allows you to cloak difficult subject matters. If you think about Nemo, there’s a murder and a kidnapping. But because it’s nature and because it’s fish, it allows you this medicinal message with a sugar-coating.
Considering the fallout of this election, do you envision ever sugar-coating some grain of truth about our country divided?
Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. All these life events tend to seep in, and the next four years will affect our lives in one way or another. It will not surprise me if indirectly or directly that inspires one of the filmmakers here.
Let’s talk about the home-media package for Finding Dory. In terms of bonus features, what are you most proud to share with viewers?
I always love the bonus material because we put such love and care into it. We’re so sick of ‘how you make an animated film.’ One of my personal favorites: I finally got [composer] Thomas Newman to sit down and really talk about how he composes music. We have a relationship — it’s our third film working together — and he’s one of my heroes. To get him to sit down and deconstruct something was just, selfishly, a real treat.
I also have to ask about Toy Story and what we can expect on the horizon as far as a Toy Story 4?
Well, nobody’s harder on us [about] making a great Toy Story movie than we are. We know what it feels like to hit the bull’s-eye. And that’s part of the reason we’ve delayed it, so that we can really nail it. I know there’s a lot of concern about ‘why a fourth?’ But the truth is, we always had the intention of continuing.
What are you most excited about as far as what you’re working on personally?
I’m going to branch out, doing some stuff probably in the live-action world again. I’ve been doing animation for so long that it’s fun to try to some shorter things. I’m not getting any younger, and it takes four years every time to do an animated picture, so instead of doing one thing in four years, I’m excited to do four things in one year.
You’re originally from the small seaside town of Rockport, Massachusetts. Is that partly why you’re so ocean-loving?
That’s not partly, that’s fully where it all comes from. Up until I was 18, every day I heard the ocean, saw the ocean, smelled the ocean. I was seven or eight when Jaws came out. Jaws was filmed on Martha’s Vineyard, but it looked just like where I grew up. None of us went in the ocean that summer.
Watch the ‘Finding Dory’ cast play “What Would Dory Do?”