Finding Dory: Andrew Stanton and Lindsey Collins interview

The director and producer of Finding Dory talk to us about the Finding Nemo sequel, Pixar, John Carter, and hard cash.

Finding Dory swims (had to be done) into UK cinemas this weekend, with it already breaking records at the box office in the US, and earning no shortage of acclaim too.

Ahead of Pixar’s latest landing in the UK, we had the chance to chat to writer/director Andrew Stanton, and producer Lindsey Collins, about the new movie…

I think Finding Dory is important. The parent in me was delighted to find a film where the central character had something that really mattered about them. It brought back Vanellope in Wreck-It Ralph in that here you had this character with a flaw as such, but one tackled with positivity. What kind of reactions have you seen to the character of Dory specifically, and the core of goodness at the heart of her?

Andrew: It’s funny. Dory, from the first film, personified everything that I’ve always wanted to be. In the moment, very child-like, always trying to find the positive in things. And I think that everybody aspires to either re-capture that or try and be that. I think that’s really natural for children.

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But with Dory, she always had tragic underside to her. In my mind, even though we never said it in the first film, she always had an apologetic, negative point of view towards her disability. I always knew going into the second film that that was something that needed to be addressed. That was the whole point of going back in.

But I guess I kind of underestimated… I got so caught up in her first as a character, and to be very honest, I didn’t even think of how it would apply to or be recognised by children, or by a parent who had to deal with disabilities. But it all makes sense now to me. I think because I was trying to go for the truth of what Dory needed to be, universally.

Lindsay: I think we treat these characters, and write them and judge them depending on the moment via our own kids. The fact that Dory apologies almost as an introduction to herself all the time. She doesn’t apologise again after her mom says don’t you dare apologise. And I love that. I love that she just stops right then and there, after a lifetime of apologising for herself. She is the character coming into this film that never judged anyone else. She never let anybody else’s struggles or flaws define her. She never acknowledges Nemo’s fin, for instance. I think she moves right past it, but the one person she doesn’t do that with is herself. There is something really nice, and necessary, to give her that same break.

I never think there’s a point in pretending that any audience doesn’t bring something to a film. As such, members of my family battle with their disabilities. Whenever I see a representation of disability in any form on screen, I’m especially interested. I do think what’s crucial here is that you address it with such positivity. I think it’s important.

Andrew: It’s such an honour and a humbling thing. Maybe there’s even more hunger for it now. The air of criticism is palpable all the time now, and it’s not the world we grew up in.

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I had on my list to apologise to you for asking you a money question about John Carter when that film came around. That, whatever people thought of the film, it seemed to be the money rather than the movie that became the story.

Andrew: That’s a good segue!

But you’ve been on both sides of the box office in two films, with Finding Dory now smashing all sorts of records. Do you think the movie press is missing something by focusing on the money, though?

Andrew: I think they’ve been missing a beat since pretty much the first movie I ever worked on! I just feel like, I have the luxury of perspective because in 20 plus years… nobody talked about the story for Toy Story at first. All it was that it was the first computer animated film. What technique did you use, what tools did you use.

All of these things have fallen away. I learned very early on that if I’m going to be working on something for four years, I’ve got to be working on it for the grandkids not the kids. That when all this falls away, and when somebody finds it on a shelf… I found Disney movies, and I didn’t know which was a flop, and which was a bomb. I didn’t know what order they were done in. All I knew was that I liked them. I don’t know how anybody else does it, but it would kill me to have to be in for any other reason. Any film that I’ve worked on, whether it’s John Carter or Finding Dory, whether it’s gone huge or it’s gone down, it’s made with the same intent that it’ll be found decades later with none of that bullshit.

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Do you find the same, Lindsey? Reading through your credits, you were at Disney in the era – the late 90s, early 2000s – where we’re not supposed to like some of its films. I didn’t get that memo myself!

Lindsey: Yeah.

When you’re producing a movie though, can you say it’s about story, and character, with money be damned?

Lindsey: You know what? Yes. I feel lucky saying that. I fully appreciate that it’s a rarefied universe and group of people that I work with. We are very, very protected by that. We don’t have to justify changes. We don’t have to keep the things that aren’t working because we don’t have the money to fix it.

It almost sounds like I’m bragging or describing a utopia here, but as a producer, it is so easy to work at Pixar from the financial standpoint. Everybody’s in it to make the best movie. We have time on our side, and people who run the company who are big believers in making hard choices. Having witnessed John Carter as well, if nothing else you only appreciate all the more the reason you do it, and the people you do it with. You don’t put your happiness on a number at the box office, because it’s so out of your control. And I think that, again, I have kids, and watching them watch these films, there’s a lot of love for the film.

It strikes me as fortuitous, although I’ve not seen the four or five years of graft so it’s easy for me to say, that Finding Dory arrives this year. And whilst I don’t want to go deeply into the politics of what’s going on in the world, this matters doesn’t it? Having something so positive around right now? How conscious are you of the outside world when you’re making a film like this, though?

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Andrew: I don’t think there’s any way you can purposely plan four years out.

I don’t think you could plan 2016 out anyway!

Lindsey: Who could have seen all this coming!?

Andrew: But everything we work on has been so many years ahead of release. The only time I’ve ever seen a reaction to the time is we had to tweak something on Monsters Inc just because of 9/11. But that was it. We’re always trying to go for what we think is the universal truth though. A lot of films you love were decades ago. There’s a different category that you’re going for. At times you’re going to blend in some topical stuff, though.

I always think that Three Days Of The Condor is one of the most timeless films. The only bit that really looks dated is the futuristic font on the credits, ironically. The one thing they tried to make look modern is the one thing that doesn’t.

Andrew: Yeah!

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Earlier in the year, Rich Moore gave you, Andrew, the credit for helping with a pivotal change to Zootropolis. He said that it was you who pinpointed that the world wasn’t treating the character of Nick properly. I wonder if he’s returned the favour here: you’ve got Rich Moore listed as special thanks on the credit, and I was wondering if there was a specific contribution he’d made?

Andrew: Rich Moore – and Jim Reardon, who wrote Wall-E with me – we all went to school together. And they’re some of the best filmmakers I ever knew.

Lindsey: We had the added benefit of being able to tap some of the Disney brain trust when we needed. Those two in particular we asked them to come back, and did another screening for them. We asked if we’d addressed some of the things that they’d brought up.

Because they’re family, they can be a little more brutally honest than some people are sometimes willing to be. They were so helpful, that I thought they deserved credit!

Andrew and Lindsey, thank you very much.

Finding Dory is in UK cinemas on Friday

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