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How Andrew Stanton Found the Right Path for ‘Finding Dory’

With "Finding Dory" on track for a huge box office opening this weekend, director Andrew Stanton reflects on sequels and mid-life crisis storytelling.

Finding Dory

“Finding Dory”

Pixar

Finding Dory” marks yet another mid-life crisis movie at Pixar —a trend that’s sure to continue. For Andrew Stanton, though, the fear of being alone for Ellen DeGeneres’ forgetful blue tang became more relatable when he realized mid-way through production: “My kids are gone and who am I?”

“It was interesting to realize that I was talking about middle age and accepting who you are and going with it….It all kinda comes out eventually after four years on a film,” Stanton conceded.

But the “Finding Nemo” sequel, 13 years later, was daunting, like a second season of TV, where it’s a different path and you’re working from the outside in.

Stanton said he’s never had such a hard time cracking a character’s way of expressing itself.

READ MORE: Review: ‘Finding Dory’ Is A Compelling Argument In Defense Of Sequels

“Because of her short-term memory loss, she just could not self-reflect,” he said. “And I suddenly realized that’s what you need — she has to be able to tell you how she’s feeling differently from the last scene to the next scene so you understand that there’s change happening. And we were completely hamstrung about that so we had to come up with so many clever ways to supplicate that: To have Hank [Ed O’Neill’s octopus] around her all the time to basically be her memory, to have her get memories as she moved along the path, to have her meet her history and then inform her about things.”

And yet Dory’s incredible survival instinct comes as a result of her inability to self-reflect. “For as cute and as charming and as sweet as she is, she’s a fighter and she’s got street savvy,” Stanton continued.

Finding Dory

“Finding Dory”

Disney/Pixar

“She was built and wired up to be the best sidekick ever. And so we realized we should just embrace that. She doesn’t know how to drive — she knows how to be a great co-pilot. And so that was part of the discovery for us, to be forced to drive. That’s why she can only be the eyes and ears in the stroller.”

And so the wild chase in the Marine Life Institute to find Dory’s parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy) proved to be the most difficult sequence. (And, no, there was no LGBT agenda by including two women together as background characters.)

“It was a tangled mess that took years to [get right] through a process of elimination,” Stanton recalled. “It’s where all the worlds collide and it can be too many plates spinning to try and track. The key was to never lose track of what Dory’s goal is.”

The catalyst was Hank, who came from screenwriter Victoria Strouse (“October Road” TV series). Dory needed a surrogate Marlin (Albert Brooks), someone to bring out the Dory in her: A curmudgeon and a reluctant ally.

READ MORE: How Pixar Pulled Off ‘Finding Dory’ with New Technology

“On a more practical level, we needed a character that could get Dory around areas that didn’t have water,” Stanton explained. “And so an octopus fit all that and we thought it was a genius idea. We never could’ve done an octopus in the first movie but, fortunately, the technology barely allowed us to get away with doing it on this one [after Hank was broken down into separate pieces].”

Returning to the the mid-life crisis theme,” Stanton said, “The specificity of the self-acceptance was: We’re not at peace until we truly understand who we are. Dory was basically unsettled until she did and all this was a means to do that.”

“Finding Dory” opens in theaters on Friday, June 17.

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