Story Theater Movie of the Week for July 22-24
While the conclusion of the 2003 Oscar®-winning film “Finding Nemo” left filmmakers and fans perfectly satisfied, director Andrew Stanton had the realization there may be some unfinished business worth exploring. “Dory had wandered the ocean most of her life,” says Stanton. “Because of her short-term memory loss, she couldn’t remember anybody she’d met, but she had emotional memories—she always remembered how it felt. And she was repeatedly left with a compounding feeling of separation and loss.
“Her optimism and helpful nature are a defense,” continues Stanton. “It is an unconscious armor she presents in hopes others won’t tire of her challenge and ditch her. When we first meet her in ‘Finding Nemo,’ one of the very first things she says is ‘I’m sorry.’ She just assumes that somehow her short-term memory loss has caused a problem and she’s quick to try to mend it. That, for me, is really juicy stuff. That’s somebody that deserves to feel better about themselves; that’s a main character with a story to tell.”
“It’s a story about family,” says Ellen DeGeneres, who lends her voice to Dory. “It’s about finding the courage to do something she’s always wanted to do—even if she couldn’t remember she wanted to do it.”
According to Stanton, the story crew initially showcased Dory as lighthearted, bubbly and funny—attributes that certainly apply to the character, but left her lacking depth. “She seemed a little two-dimensional,” says the director. “I realized that even though I had her full backstory in my head, nobody else did—including the audience. Everyone walked away from ‘Nemo’ with fond memories of how funny she is. But I always saw that as a mask. I realized we’d have to fill in the audience about what happened to her when she was young.”
“Finding Dory” (rated PG for mild situations; and with a running time of 103 min., will be held over for another weekend at the Story Theater, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, July 22, 23, 24, at 7 p.m. only) reveals that Dory has a loving mom and dad who dote on their daughter, patiently helping her manage her short-term memory loss. “They don’t try to change her,” says Stanton. “They just want to help her own who she is. Being a parent and seeing my kids grow up and enter the world, I realize that kids are all born with certain temperaments, flaws, quirks—and it’ll always be who they are. You probably spend most of your time as a parent worrying about those things, too—you don’t lose sleep over the things they do well. The best quality I could give Dory’s parents is that they never doubt her.”
Despite their best efforts, young Dory gets lost. “She wanders the ocean for most of her life,” says Stanton. “And slowly forgets why.”
A massive stingray migration cruises through their neighborhood, triggering Dory’s memory. “The experience is viscerally similar to an event that separated her from her parents so long ago,” says Stanton. “She’s flooded with memories and suddenly very motivated to track down her family.”
In an effort to maintain Dory’s drive to find her family, filmmakers had to first understand her memory issues. Says producer Lindsey Collins, “While Dory forgets details in her day-to-day life—like Nemo’s name—her emotional memory is fine—she knows she loves Nemo and Marlin. And the love she has for her parents has been with her all along.”
“The mystery of memory is so important to the story,” adds screenwriter Victoria Strouse. “Memory is a huge part of family—all of those seemingly meaningless or mundane interactions we all experience as children stay with us and shape our personalities. Dory possesses those memories—on some deep level—and accessing them is part of her ultimate journey of realizing that she’s not broken after all.”
According to co-director Angus MacLane, the memory flash marks the beginning of a new adventure. “It kicks off a quest—both internally and externally—to try to find her family,” he says. “But Dory feels that she can’t do it on her own, so she talks her newfound family—Marlin and Nemo—into coming along.”
Dory finds her way to the “Jewel of Morro Bay”—the Marine Life Institute (MLI), where she believes her family may be. The MLI is a rescue and rehabilitation center and premiere aquarium.
In the journey to the MLI, Dory finds herself separated from Marlin and Nemo, and must rely on her own intuition—as well as a host of colorful characters, appealing to each of them to help her on her quest. “I play a disgruntled octopus named Hank,” says Ed O’Neill, who was tapped by filmmakers to bring Dory’s chief wingman to life. “He doesn’t like anybody and just wants to be left alone.”
“We realized that Dory needed a foil,” says Stanton. “Dory was created in the first movie as a surrogate for Nemo. Marlin’s emotional journey to be a better parent called for a character like Dory to test him. Kids—and Dory—are very in the moment; they don’t think about the future too much. They take risks and have fun.
“For this film,” Stanton continues, “we needed a surrogate Marlin. Hank is a curmudgeon, an introvert. He really doesn’t want to be healed and sent back out to the ocean. He’d prefer a solitary existence inside an aquarium tank, so he’s trying to get himself into a more permanent installation.”
“Hank is smart, set in his ways and very cranky,” says DeGeneres. “He’s not happy where he is, while Dory is always happy wherever she is. There’s a great juxtaposition between these two; they’re complete opposites. It’s a great pairing because she is so innocent, yet pushes him to open his mind. They’re both fearful—though Dory doesn’t realize it. She just keeps swimming.”
—taken from the production notes of Finding Dory, courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures