Pixar Animation Studio’s 17th film “Finding Dory” never was part of the plan.
Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo,” “WALL-E”) hoped to make a sequel to his 2012 live-action “John Carter,” but it received an unfair drubbing from critics and audiences, and the project was scrapped.
Yet Stanton has made his peace.
“I’ve always been in it for the long game,” says Stanton, during a recent conversation in the Pixar offices. “That movie will exist on a shelf, or in pill form, or something, and somebody will find it.”
Around that time, Stanton re-watched his Oscar-winning “Finding Nemo” (2003) with an audience and emerged feeling “unresolved” about the Dory character (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres).
“I knew her back story when I came up with her,” he says, describing a character whose short-term memory loss leaves her constantly abandoned by everyone she meets, so she builds an emotional armor of friendliness and optimism.
“People walk out of that movie feeling great and loving her. And I realized that she doesn’t see herself as we see her,” he says. “I couldn’t drop it. So I started to develop the story.”
Stanton says Dory evolved after he had seen DeGeneres performing a kind of mid-thought quick-change on her 1990s TV series “Ellen.”
Later, he begged her to do the role.
“There’s a symbiotic relationship between her and that character that no other Pixar character has,” he says.
But making Dory the lead character in the new movie was a challenge that took time to mount.
“Short-term memory loss is the worst thing to give to main character because you lose self-reflection. That’s the only tool you have to show how a character is changing,” Stanton explains.
Other aspects of the film, however, were easier, describing advances in technology.
Calling “Finding Nemo” a “magic trick,” he adds, “Most of it is underwater, and we’re just floating dust and making a bunch of things wave back and forth. It gives the illusion that we’ve put water in the shot when there’s none.”
Today, animators can create photo-realistic water, and so in “Finding Dory,” they’re showing “everything,” Stanton says.
At Pixar’s outset, he says, “We knew that ‘Toy Story’ would be the ugliest film we would ever make. That’s why we put all our eggs in the story basket. Technology demanded to be improved.”
“Now we’re in a place that, it’s all been solved,” he continues. “It’s like talking about making paint. Nobody cares. It’s how you use the paint. It’s not about technology now; it’s about choice.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson
Directed by: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes