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In depth: Finding Dory, sequels, and Pixar heroines

Cars 2, Cars 3, Finding Dory, in depth, Monsters University, Pixar, Pixar Heroines, sequels, The Incredibles 2, Toy Story 3, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • June 29, 2016

This post is the first in a new feature on Upcoming Pixar where we offer a closer look at Pixar films.

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Dory – everyone’s favorite forgetful blue tang. She’s so beloved that she nearly swims away with Finding Nemo. Nearly, but not quite. One reason why that film is such an unparalleled Pixar entry is because Dory as the scene stealing, ebullient comic relief doesn’t ever overshadow Marlin. We still care about him even though he’s not immediately lovable. (Or arguably, lovable at all).

Now Dory has a movie of her very own. She’s not stealing any scenes because they all belong to her.

In retrospect, focusing the sequel on Dory makes a lot of sense. Andrew Stanton crafted an emotionally resonant story with talking fish that was based on his own observations of fatherhood. That story was finished for the most part. But a new one centered on the silly, eccentric, and carefree secondary character held an ocean of possibility.

Of course, Dory isn’t the first goofy Pixar sidekick to become a protagonist in her own film. Mater was the first in Cars 2. But Finding Dory, unlike Cars 2, was enthusiastically accepted by most. While I do enjoy the latter film, I can understand why others have never been thrilled about a Mater centric movie. Cars 2 was disappointing to many because there was nothing meaningful underneath the hoods. Pixar films can just be fun diversions, but that’s a post for another day. But to everyone’s collective relief, the emotional stakes are higher in Finding Dory. Dory’s presence in Finding Nemo makes that film all the more poignant because her silliness contains pathos. She’s not just the hilarious sidekick.

“Please don’t go away. Please? No one’s ever stuck with me for so long before.”

“And…and I look at you, and I’m home! Please…I don’t want that to go away. I don’t want to forget.”

Is it any wonder that Andrew Stanton felt “very worried about Dory and couldn’t stop thinking about how she needed closure”?

Stanton didn’t work on the sequel right away. It wasn’t until 2011, eight years after Finding Nemo, that he began to consider it. And it clearly took more time to tackle the story before it was officially announced and released into the ocean five years later. This is the usual way sequels are handled at Pixar, with the exception of Toy Story 2. That film had to be salvaged on a tight deadline which makes it all the more impressive.

For all the worry about “Pixar’s decline” and reliance on sequels, critics and fans should rest assured. Finding Dory may not be as seamless as its predecessor, but its story is still meaningful. Art continues to challenge, technology continues to inspire.

Finding Dory should assuage worry in the same way Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3 did. But the Cars sequels and Toy Story 4 represent too big of a worry. Apparently, Pixar isn’t allowed any missteps. We’ve already seen this with Brave, Monsters University, and more recently, The Good Dinosaur. Those are films that I love dearly. While Finding Dory should remind everyone that Pixar is still in robust shape, creating a sequel that retains the emotional power of its predecessor, that still isn’t enough for most.

But why is Finding Dory so significant, even if it is a dreaded sequel? For starters, it’s only the third Pixar film to feature a female protagonist. A supporting female character with a murky background became much more substantial. Dory was hilarious and heartbreaking in the first film. She still is, but now she’s achieved closure. Her story was given so much love and attention that the sequel, in retrospect, is all the more necessary. And sequels are rarely ever necessary according to the general public.

Then of course, is what her short term memory loss represents. It’s not merely there for laughs.

“I was using her disability to represent everybody. It works for anybody, because nobody is perfect. Everybody has a flaw that they maybe mislabel as such.”

-Andrew Stanton

Her disability doesn’t hinder her from being kind, generous, and friendly. It doesn’t hinder her from demonstrating empathy or discovering other forms of strength. And probably less important, or maybe even more so, is that Marlin and Nemo, along with new friends Hank, Destiny, and Bailey, do not pity Dory. They recognize all the wonderful things she is capable of, not despite her disability, but precisely because of it. They see her, first and foremost, as a friend they love and care about. She recognizes the same and encourages them despite their own limitations. This is a sequel where the characters either overcome their disabilities or still thrive even if they aren’t cured of them. That kind of message is vital for all ages, but especially for the youngest who do make up a large portion of Pixar’s audience.

tumblr_mjzmteGdWm1s714eko1_500When Stanton first revealed how Dory’s disability would be treated (in this excellent interview with Collider), I was reminded of “Toy Story of TERROR!” That short film, like Finding Dory, made a vivacious supporting female character the lead. Jessie’s role in Toy Story 2 functions the same way as Dory’s in Finding Nemo. She adds more emotional weight. In “TERROR!”, Jessie overcomes her claustrophobia in order to save the day. Many fans even praised the sensitive way her panic attacks and anxiety were depicted.

“Jessie never gives up, Jessie finds a way.”

Compare that to Dory’s unflagging optimism in Finding Nemo, along with her insistence that there’s always another way in the sequel. These are two female characters who confront or embrace their weaknesses and disabilities. They refuse to give up even when they’ve seemingly exhausted all their options.

Jessie and Dory assist the male hero but they are well rounded supporting characters in their own right. Jessie was introduced in a sequel while Dory was re-introduced in one of her own. Holly Shiftwell in Cars 2 was Mater’s romantic interest, but she was also a highly skilled secret agent. Whether The Incredibles 2 features any prominent new female characters remains to be seen. Could Helen and/or Violet be protagonists this time around? They’re still compelling even as secondary characters. Cruz Ramirez in Cars 3 is a crucial character, but she’s supporting Lightning McQueen. No doubt she’ll be fun to watch and we should hope for a positive, non stereotypical representation of her Hispanic background.

tumblr_mzxuikdFDd1s5wuldo1_500Now onto Toy Story 4. Woody will be reunited with Bo Peep in a love story. Bo Peep is really the only female character in a Pixar film who is merely peripheral. She had less screentime in Toy Story 2 because, as a porcelain lamp, it wasn’t logical that she’d be able to travel with the other toys around the tri-county area. Her absence in the third film was also a logical choice for the story. It was meant to show that losing friends is inevitable, but also made sense because Molly wouldn’t have assigned Bo Peep any sentimental value and held onto her like Andy did with his toys.

Bo Peep isn’t a dynamic character, but that’s not an issue. She may be on the sidelines, but so are Slinky, Rex, Hamm, and Mr. Potato Head. They’re all colorful, interesting characters, but the motivations and character arcs are reserved for Woody and Buzz.

We don’t know what to expect from Toy Story 4 just yet, but given Pixar’s track record, I think it’s safe to assume that Bo Peep will be an even stronger character in this upcoming installment.

For those who scoff at sequels and Pixar’s recent proliferation of them, their future does appear bleak. It’s much easier to look at Cars 2, Monsters University, Cars 3, and Toy Story 4 as proof positive of Pixar’s decline than to look past those films and remain eager about what else is yet to come. What’s ironic is that no one harbors this kind of pessimism for The Incredibles 2. Doesn’t that film have just as much potential as the others to be unspectacular? The general consensus of course is that The Incredibles 2 is the only sequel capable of being good. But Finding Dory and the Toy Story sequels have proven that to be untrue. Even if Cars 2Monsters University, and The Good Dinosaur are regarded as weak efforts, that still doesn’t mean that Pixar’s creative quality has declined.

I prefer to take an optimistic view of Pixar’s sequels because of the roles Pixar heroines, old and new, get to play. Despite popular beliefs to the contrary, I know there are more original films in the works. Coco is just the only one that’s been announced.

Good stories exist in Pixar’s original films and their sequels. Personally, I have yet to watch a bad Pixar film. Others don’t agree and that’s fine too. I’m not worried about Pixar making a bad film, because as I’ve seen, they’re still making good ones.

Pessimism is tempting, but as Dory says, there’s always another way.

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Finding Dory Press Junket Exclusive

Andrew Stanton, Angus Maclane, Behind The Scenes, Finding Dory, Finding Nemo, Interview

Posted by Nia • June 17, 2016

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Last week Upcoming Pixar was invited to a Finding Dory press junket in Beverly Hills. There we got to see the fantastic cast of the film discuss their experiences while working on the project. The room was buzzing with excitement as the cast walked on stage. After watching a screening the night before at the Walt Disney Studios, we were excited to have a few hours set aside to hear about the making of the film and find out more about the new worlds depicted. It was certainly thrilling to get an opportunity to be in the same room as some of the talented folks apart of this film, ask them questions, and hear first hand about their time channelling their characters. The cast in attendance consisted of Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Eugene Levy, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Ed O’Neill, and of course, Ellen DeGeneres.

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Every cast member on stage contributed something wonderful and added to the story of Dory trying to find her parents. The junket was structured in a way where the audience members were able to ask questions to anyone on stage, which opened up some insightful inquiries. The cast was also very playful during the questions and were quick to bounce back for any comedic opportunities.

Some of our favorite moments: 

  • Ed O’Neill offered some light on his beloved new character Hank, the octopus. One of his major character quirks in Finding Dory was that he’s missing a tentacle and he’s desperately trying to find a way out of the aquarium. He refuses to go back in the ocean and O’Neill offered that reason is because “he had a bad experience in the ocean. We’re guessing that something bit off one of his tentacles.”
  • When asked how the cast prepared for their roles, Ty Burrell mentioned how he had created a distinct voice that he thought would match the character perfectly. He wanted to channel the character like “a whale with a cold” since Bailey looked rather congested. After pitching the idea and voicing a few lines, Andrew Stanton politely insisted on Burrell doing “the whole film in his voice” rather than the fun little voice he had created. Albert Brooks pitched in that he kept his co-star Hayden Rolence, who voiced Nemo, “in a small tank for six months” as inspiration.
  • Ellen discussed that if she were to have any trait from Dory, she’d want to have all of them. “I try to have as many traits as she has: optimism, perseverance, non-judgement, not having any resentment, or holding on to anger, not feeling like a victim; I think that’s why she’s such a lovable character because she really thinks everything is possible. She never for a second thinks that anything is wrong with anybody else or herself. She just keeps swimming.”
  • Albert Brooks’ new philosophy to life was revealed, after he was asked if he solves problems more analytically like Marlin or spontaneously like Dory: “Thank God my memory is great. As you get older, you do forget little things. I’ve come up now with a new philosophy of life: if something is bothering me, I ask myself to check back in 30 minutes. If it’s still bothering me, I deal with it; but a lot of it I don’t remember.”
  • Eugene Levy’s secret to being a great movie dad is “acting.”
  • Destiny and Bailey’s relationship in Finding Dory is more focused on them being like siblings rather than best friends or a married couple. “They’re really very close, but they annoy the heck out of each other. I feel there’s a theme in this film where Destiny can’t see very well, Bailey’s radar is all messed up, and Dory can’t remember but somehow friendship can make you complete. Their relationship in the institute was sort of about that, them trying to take care of each other. It’s creating your own kind of family.”
  • And finally, we even got to ask Ellen a question! “You’ve helped shape Dory’s personality from the very beginning in Finding Nemo, did you have a particular connection with Dory’s desire for belonging and finding her family?” And Ellen’s response: “Well I think everybody is searching for their home, whatever that is, I think home is different for everybody. I understand what a sense of belonging is, I understand when you want to say ‘why am I who I am?’, ‘where did I come from’, and ‘how did I end up where I am?’ Yeah, I can relate to that. I think everybody can.”

In a previous conference that same day, director Andrew Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins shared some fabulous insight on how they were able to successfully revisit the world of Finding Nemo and also some of the obstacles they faced in production.

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Some of our favorite moments:

  • It was in 2011, when Andrew Stanton was watching the 3D release of Finding Nemo, that he left “very worried about Dory and couldn’t stop thinking about how she needed closure”, thus sparking the idea to delve into a sequel. Andrew and Lindsay Collins kept that idea to themselves for a while, until they were 100% sure they wanted to re-visit the world and Dory, and perfect the story. “Once you say ‘Finding Anything’ they’re going to want to make it.”
  • Andrew Stanton’s song choices (Beyond The Sea and Unforgettable) in both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory were thematic. It was Robbie Williams singing a version of Beyond The Sea that inspired him to go the route of choosing a classic song but with a twist for the end of his films.
  • Andrew’s new favorite character is Hank because he’s spent the most time with him, in terms of working with O’Neill during the records and dealing with all the technicalities with the character in production. Lindsay Collins loves Bailey and Destiny.
  • A normal character in a Pixar film takes six months, but it took two years to make Hank. “It took six months just to animate the first shot with him. We would still be making the movie right now had we not learned how to do that a little faster.”
  • Stanton’s goal for Dory was to be universal with Dory’s disability, “I was using her disability to represent everybody. It works for anybody, because nobody is perfect. Everybody has a flaw that they maybe mislabel as such. It’s a reflection of my age. I’ve reached middle-age and you start to recognize that I’m not really going to change. I am who I am, and I got to own that. I’ve got to learn to start enjoying that fact; the good and the bad.”
  • The environment in both films have different meanings. In Finding Nemo, the vast ocean that Marlin and Dory traveled through was more like a desert. In the sequel, Andrew decided to have it set near the aquarium because he wanted more of a forest setting he couldn’t explore in the first film. “It’s more like a forest, a fairy tale. In fairy tales things are hidden, secrets are hidden there, and things are discovered in the forest.”

It’s always inspiring listening to the filmmakers and cast talk firsthand about how they were able to collaborate and create such a fantastic film. Many thanks to the cast and crew for their time during the junket, and Disney/Pixar for letting us have the opportunity to be there.

It’s highly recommended that you check out Finding Dory, which is finally released in cinemas today. We hope you’re as excited as we were to check out the film. And always remember… just keep swimming!

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Piper: A Mini-Review

Alan Barillaro, Andrew Stanton, Angus Maclane, Finding Dory, Piper, Review

Posted by Nia • June 15, 2016

Piper is a short film directed by Alan Barillaro and plays before Finding Dory. It’s definitely one of the more simplistic shorts from the studio as it depicts the struggles of a sandpiper hatchling trying to catch food without the help of its mother. As the bird finds out, it’s not as easy as it looks. It’s a sweet little film about learning how to be independent, acknowledging the environment around you, and facing your fears; no matter how silly they may be.

One of the most charming aspects about this film is the amount of detail that was put into it and the fact that it’s told without dialogue. Piper is the cutest little bird, and even her ruffled feathers have character. I loved hearing during the press junket last week about the research trips that director Alan Barillaro and crew would go on in order to capture sandpipers in their natural habitat. The team would get down and dirty in the sand, waiting for hours for the birds to appear, and even submerging go-pros in the water to get the look they wanted for their desired shots. This film has so much energy and that’s in part to the overall cinematography and direction. Piper is full of macro-photography and photo-realism, as we get up close and personal with the hatchling in her environment. The music is also short, simple, and keeps the story moving with its fast tempo. The score was composed by famed guitarist and vocalist Adrian Belew.

Check out the little teaser below to get a sense of what to expect come Friday when Finding Dory is released.

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