When the ‘Nemo‘ sequel was announced this morning, I was glad to see that the previous skepticism that surrounded the project disappeared for the most part. After all, Dory is one of the most beloved Pixar characters ever and people are excited to see her again in a central role. This very same thing is the reason some people are still worried though. Cars 2 is the only Pixar movie that hasn’t been received with universal acclaim and it was mostly because Mater, a relatively popular secondary character, was promoted to a more prominent role.
Animated movies are great for hilarious secondary characters. Timon and Pumba, Mushu, Donkey, Sebastian, the Minions…these are all extremely popular characters. Even in live-action movies, secondary characters can be more popular with fans than the hero. Han Solo vs Luke Skywalker, for example. Now, since these characters are so popular, studios want to cash in and make movies centered on them. This is mostly a bad idea because secondary characters are usually created to serve the main character’s emotional journey. Dory exists to show Marlin how to enjoy life. She’s the exact opposite of him and that’s why they’re great together. This is the same case as with Lightning McQueen and Mater, although the Cars characters are not as emotionally complex.
So while it is a risk to take a character like the Ellen DeGeneres voiced fish and make them the center of your movie, here are a few reasons as to why I’m confident:
Just like with the Toy Story trilogy, it sounds like Pixar is making the movie because they have a story to tell. Andrew Stanton, director and writer of the original, was quoted saying that he had always wondered why Dory was alone that day she met Marlin. So with that question somewhere in this great storyteller’s mind, a story slowly started to form.
It sounds like Dory will be meeting her family in this movie and will go through the emotional journey of finding herself. A movie usually is only as strong as the emotional journey or arc the main character goes through. Woody goes from plotting against Buzz to being his best friend. Mr. Incredible says he works alone and he learns to be part of a team and to appreciate his family. And Marlin, with Dory’s help, learns to let go and to enjoy life.
Think of how well written the movie is. When Marlin and Nemo are inside the whale, Dory tells him it’s time to let go but he doesn’t want to. That’s a tiny moment that summarizes the whole movie. When Dory is trapped in the fishing net, Nemo tells his dad he has to let go so he can save Dory. Again, a tiny moment that’s all about letting go. A good movie layers its theme in all scenes like this. Nemo’s best moment, however, is at the very end when Nemo and Marlin are hugging and our protagonist holds on for too long. Nemo states the theme out loud: “Dad, it’s time to let go”.
So if Dory will meet her family and learn about herself, she will go through a satisfying arc. In the original, her role is mainly to teach Marlin that he should ‘just keep swimming’ but she also goes through a small arc. At first she’s alone and forgets everything. By the time the movie ends, she has given a heart-breaking speech and realized when she’s with Marlin, she doesn’t forget things. So maybe this aspect of Dory (her loneliness) will be prominent in the movie. Do you know another great movie about a lonely character?
How about Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, one of the very best movies Pixar has ever produced?
So we have Andrew Stanton (who has story credits on all Toy Stories, Monsters Inc, Wall-E and of course, Finding Nemo) directing this Dory-centric movie not because of money but because he wants to explore a fantastic character in a deeper way. We have Victoria Strouse writing it, who is new to Pixar but has the full support of some of the greatest storytellers in the business and we have an incredibly passionate Ellen DeGeneres (who has already read the script and loved it) voicing the character. Pixar will not disappoint this time, my friends.
PS: By the time Finding Dory comes out, Pixar will have produced 12 original movies vs 5 sequels. Not that bad, is it?