The Pixar Theory: How ‘Finding Dory’ Fits In The Pixar Universe

finding dory pixar theory

Don’t cry mommy…don’t cry.

Here’s the deal. A few years ago, I proposed a theory that makes the case for how and why every Pixar movie from Toy Story to WALL-E exists in a shared universe with a single, overarching narrative. The case I make is fueled by easter eggs, cameos, story themes, and other clues that make up what I call The Pixar Theory (link above).

Since I wrote the original theory and turned it into a book, I’ve also added “chapters” that talk about Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, just last year. And now we’ve come to the 2016 release, Finding Dory.

I’ll give you the normal rundown below, but first a tease. Would you believe me if I told you that the Toy Story movies have an incredibly strong connection with this movie? Well, we’ll get to that.


finding dory pixar theory

It took Pixar 13 years, but they finally made a sequel to one of their most beloved films, Finding Nemo. In that movie, a clown fish named Marlin crosses the ocean in search of his son, and he’s aided by the quirky and forgetful blue tang, Dory.

The sequel kicks off a year later, when Dory suddenly remembers a clue related to her family, whom she lost as a very young child—er—fish. So Marlin and Nemo help Dory cross the ocean once again to find them, only this time, they have to brave the horrors outside of the ocean, in a marine institute that rehabilitates fish and has its own aquarium exhibits.

First, let’s talk briefly about how Finding Nemo fits into the theory, because for obvious reasons, that will inform a lot of what we can uncover with the sequel.


This was actually one of the shortest chapters of the book, mostly because the connections in Finding Nemo are very speculative and work to enhance other animal-centric films like Ratatouille. Interestingly, I do speak in length about Dory in that chapter, because she is a character who represents the mysterious intelligence animals in Pixar movies seem to possess, leading all the way to movies like Monsters Inc., which imagines a world where animals run the world as monsters.

Dory has very unique abilities that other fish like her simply don’t possess. She can read, for one thing, and “speak whale.” We’ll get to why that really is, later, because Finding Dory sheds plenty of light on where this all comes from.

finding dory pixar theory

I also speak on how Finding Nemo goes out of its way to create animosity between the fish of the ocean and the humans, paving the way for an increasingly connected community of animals who will do whatever it takes to get away from wherever the humans are. Humans steal Nemo and threaten his life, keep the Tank Gang imprisoned in the dentist’s office, and then capture Dory in a fishing net. It’s proven in the movie that humans are actually the biggest threat to creatures of the ocean.

But in the end, the fish rally against humans once and for all, thanks in no small part to Nemo’s leadership when he convinces a horde of them to break the human’s fishing net so they can escape.


Warning: spoilers for Finding Dory from here on out. Be sure to watch the movie before going any further unless you want to be spoiled.

Humans are still terrible in the story of Finding Dory, but not always directly. True, they capture Dory almost as soon as she reaches the kelp forest next to the marine institute. But Dory herself doesn’t seem to fear or hate them. She, just like most other characters, is pretty indifferent to the humans.

finding dory pixar theory

Hank the octopus, on the other hand, is very antagonistic toward the marine institute workers, always escaping and finding ways to avoid them at all costs. This is made even clearer when his worst nightmare is realized at the “touch pool,” where children descend their fingers upon the fish to the tune of a horror movie.

Imagine the scene from Toy Story 3 when the toys first encounter the caterpillar room. All of the savvy toys are hiding because they know children are coming to make their lives a living riptide. Well, that’s basically what happens here, and this fear of humans isn’t just comic relief. It’s kind of terrifying, and it’s even a little entertaining considering a Toy Story connection coming later…

It’s no wonder that by the end of the movie, all of the fish from the institute hark to the words of Sigourney Weaver and “release” themselves into the ocean. To them, freeing themselves of humans is their version of a happy ending.


So what makes Dory so “special,” and just what in the ocean does that have to do with the Pixar Theory? Well, don’t forget that the growing intelligence of animals in movies like RatatouilleUpA Bug’s Life, and even The Good Dinosaur all lead up to the inevitable reality where oversized animals who look like monsters solely inhabit the future world devoid of humans (only for them to go back in time to harvest the energy-filled screams of children in order to sustain their world further because, and you guessed it, humans are batteries).

finding dory pixar theory

Like in Inside Out, Pixar hits us over the head with the idea that humans give off an energy that sparks life into everyday objects like toys, cars, and even our own emotions. So how did Dory become the way she is?

It’s revealed in Finding Dory that she was born in captivity. So she grew up constantly surrounded by humans and signs from the exhibits that she’s able to remember throughout the film, explaining how she was able to learn to read. Peach the starfish from Finding Nemo is another fish who has the rare ability to read, and even she explains that she was brought to the tank from eBay.

The idea is that when animals become entrenched in human fixtures and attention, they are able to expand their personalities and capabilities. Though Dory suffers from a very serious disability with short-term memory loss, she’s able to cope by forming connections in a very human way. This explains why fish are so quick to help her with whatever problem she’s facing, no questions asked.

We see the same sort of thing with Remy from Ratatouille, who becomes the greatest chef in France only after his experiences in the human world. Simply put, humans and animals have a lot to gain and learn from each other.


finding dory pixar theory

Nope. There’s also a subtle but unforgettable moment in the movie that hints a connection with Toy Story. Here it goes.

About halfway through the movie, Marlin and Nemo find themselves in a fish tank outside of a gift shop, and there’s a single, plastic fish toy moving around them. It prods Marlin over and over again, and then eventually when they’re trying to figure a way out, they notice that the fish is tapping the glass all of a sudden pointing directly at the exact path they need to take in order to escape (a stream of geysers that will carry them over to the tide pool).

The idea is that the toy fish is, you guessed it, alive, and it’s trying to help Nemo and Marlin without revealing itself because it has to play dead with so many people around watching them. This is a great connection to the relationship we see in Toy Story 2 between Woody and Buster, who form a bond and friendship together. Here, the toy just seems anxious to show Marlin and Nemo exactly what they need to do so they can find their friend.

In other words, Pixar is amazing.


finding dory pixar theory

As always, there are ample easter eggs and references to other movies to find throughout, including the A113 callout that shows up toward the end of the movie on a license plate (again, just like Toy Story).

Also, Sigourney Weaver’s voice is heard throughout the marine park announcing the exhibits. This will be familiar to fans of Andrew Stanton’s other Pixar movie, WALL-E, which also features Weaver’s voice as the sound of a computer on the Axiom. Makes sense that in the Pixar universe, Sigourney Weaver’s voice is the most trusted when it comes to soothing, computer-controlled announcements.

Remember Darla from Finding Nemo? You can see the same photo of her holding the dead fish in the marine institute that her uncle has all the way in Australia. This means the marine institute has a clear connection to the P. Sherman, who also loves to work by the sea. It could even mean that in the one year since losing all of his fish in the tank, he decided to devote his life to studying aquatic life in California, a dream somewhat preluded in the fact that he scuba dived far into the ocean just to take photos, eventually leading to him taking Nemo.

finding dory pixar theory

And here’s a spookier reference that hints the rise of BnL, the corporation that will eventually burn all the trash into toxic air. In the picture below (bottom right), you can spot a WALL-E calendar, referencing the robots that will one day (try) to clean the Earth.

It’s telling that in a movie where there is a ton of garbage piling up in the water just outside the marine institute, robots as advanced as WALL-E are already being prototyped.

finding dory pixar theory

The Luxo Ball and Pizza Planet truck make their scheduled appearances, as well. You can see the Luxo Ball in the clutter of toys in the Kid Zone, and the Pizza Planet truck is one of the underwater vehicles found during the squid scene.

Be sure to add what you find in your own viewings via the comments.

Another quick thing, though, is that for whatever reason, Pixar seems to really hate birds unless they’re in a short like with Piper, or they’re named Nigel. Like the seagulls from Finding Nemo and the instinctual predator bird from A Bug’s Life, there are half-brained birds all over the place in Finding Dory, including one named Becky who will still find a way to capture your heart, I guess.


pixar theory

Sadly, it will be a year before we get any new Pixar movies, with Cars 3 set to release June 16, 2017. Though a lot of people may not be very excited about yet another Cars sequel, they can still take solace in knowing that the studio is releasing Coco, an original non-sequel coming out that same year in November, based on the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos.

The film has already begun animation as of April, and the premise follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who tries to uncover a “generations-old” mystery. The current synopsis is:

“Coco is the celebration of a lifetime, where the discovery of a generations-old mystery leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion.”

Also, we have Toy Story 4 and Incredibles 2 to look forward to in the next few years, including a rumored slate of about four non-sequels Pixar is working on that are due to come out over the next decade.

All of these movies are months and years away, so until they release, I’ll be here conspiring.

Want even more?

  • First, be sure to check out the book, The Pixar Theory, available on paperback and ebook via Kindle, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, or just a PDF. This will cover the entire theory and every movie in the Pixar universe, updated from the 2013 blog post.
  • Parts 2 and 3 of the The Pixar Theory cover the latest movies that have come out since the book was published. So you can check out Part 2, Inside Out, as well as Part 3, The Good Dinosaur via the links.
  • Want to talk about all of this stuff with tons of other Pixar Detectives? You can start all of the conversations you want in the comments for this post, or join the ongoing discussions in the original blog post, here.
  • Last but hopefully not least, you can read my free Pixar Theory serial novel, The Pixar Detective, which was completed last spring. It tells a new story that shows off the grand narrative of all the Pixar movies with original characters, familiar faces, and a mystery that ties them all together.

Thanks for reading this. To get updates on my theories, books, and giveaways, join my mailing list.

Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni


69 thoughts on “The Pixar Theory: How ‘Finding Dory’ Fits In The Pixar Universe

  1. My Pixar Detective Spinoff is doing wonderful. Six Chapters strong and I’m getting people. I am almost done with the 7th Chapter and will be posting it immediately after I finish, which is hopefully today.

    • I even included a Dory reference in the new Chapter, and boy you should read the entire thing. It involves what happened after Stevin left 1935, and there will be a ton of good stuff in there. Read it when you have the chance.
      My next post will be the release of Chapter 7.

  2. I just released the new chapter on Wattpad. On the day Finding Dory was released… What happens after Stevin left 1935? Read this with new characters and arcs. 7 Chapters down, 3 more until Arc 1 is finished.

  3. Did you happen to notice in a crowd scene at the Marine Institute (I think when the crowd of kids is looking at Destiny’s tank) the black girl from Riley’s class (one of the cool girls) is seen. This would place Finding Dory (and Finding Nemo for that matter) definitely in the same time period as Inside Out. Furthermore, Inside Out takes place in San Francisco so it’s logical that the black girl would maybe be on vacation in Southern California (or wherever the Marine Institute is).

    • Yes, but didn’t Negroni place Finding Nemo in 2003? And Finding Dory takes place 1 year after Finding Nemo, putting Finding Dory in 2004, well before Inside Out, which theoretically takes place in 2015. If this is true about Riley’s classmate, how does that get explained?

      • I’m not sure why Finding Nemo/Dory couldn’t take place around the same time as Inside Out. I dug into the Inside Out article where he states that movie most likely takes place in 2015. He compares the technology available to the technology in Toy Story 3. He also connects TS3 and Finding Nemo with the presence of BnL. So perhaps this is evidence that the time period for Finding Nemo/Dory should be adjusted

        Would love to hear thoughts!

        • Of course, the Inside Out girl’s cameo could also be treated as just an Easter egg like Bomb Voyage in Ratatouille…

          • what if time travel had unprecedented side effects? It’s been proven (by Jon) that time travel exists (in the form of Boo) so maybe when she or the monsters travel through the doorways, some people (very few people, but some nonetheless) attempt to follow the monsters through their doorways (similarly to Boo). Since now monsters dedicate their work to making children laugh in order to obtain energy, they probably don’t see the children as major threats anymore. What if when these people followed their respective monsters through the portals (doorways), they were transported to the monster world, then ran through a different door, thus turning up in a different time and place? (Sorry I’m new at this so this probably sucks).

    • I also saw when the otters spilled out of the car, the family from inside out was in the car that came in first

  4. I’m pretty sure I saw the pizza planet truck on the highway right after seeing A-113 on the licence plate.

  5. Did the Pizza Planet truck make an appearance? I heard that it might be in the ocean during the squid scene. If I remember correctly, it was driving down the street in Australia in Finding Nemo. Just curious.

  6. Why were the gang from the tank in Finding Nemo not in this film?

    • You didn’t you didn’t stay until after the credits…

    • Check the scene after credits 🙂

    • They were after the credits.

  7. Is it worth noting that Dory was told she was being moved to Cleveland because she was sick and couldn’t survive in the ocean? As well as all the other fish in quarantine?

    • The Cleveland mention is probably in reference to Lee Unkrich, longtime Pixar director of movies like Toy Story 3. He’s from Cleveland, Ohio, originally.

      As for Dory being sick, it seems she wasn’t being sent there because of any known illnesses (they never really examined her at all). It’s because the rest of the blue tangs were being sent to Cleveland the next day.

  8. I have a feeling Coco will take place possibly in the 19th century, after Brave but before The Incredibles. Miguel, the protagonist, is said to have a reunion with his family on the Day of the Dead, which means he’ll discover the ability to travel to the world of death. One of the many… super powers the world will discover at the time.

    • I don’t agree that this is a 19th Century movie, simply because the clothes Miguel wears are much more modern. He wears jeans and boots, for example. Of course, I totally agree that it would be exciting to see if Miguel has powers like a super, years after the events of the Incredibles. That would be a fun way to prepare everyone for The Incredibles 2.

  9. Did anyone notice that a girl at the marine life institute looked like boo? She seemed to have dark hair and a pink outfit in a stroller looking at the whale tank.

  10. Have you heard about Matpat’s theory on Dory? He provides some pretty solid evidence that Dory’s amnesia/memory loss is a survival tactic.

  11. Are you ever gonna share your thoughts on how the Pixar short-films contribute to the theory?

  12. I noticed that in The Monster Inc movies children were seen as toxic until you know they found boo to be none toxic and everything. Hank from finding Dory and the Day care in Toy Story 3 had bad experiences with children. Like he said animals view humans as the bad guy in Pixar

  13. Lord help me, I personally don’t believe that all these Pixar movies are connected in this LOOOOOOOOOONG timeline that leads to the animal world becoming smarter and smarter, the destruction of humans, the uprising of machines, humans trying to conquer Earth again, animals becoming mutant monsters, and one girl discovering time travel and going back to help Merida start all this with turning her mom into a bear. It is very elaborate and interesting to read but it sounds crazy to be 🙂

  14. Not only is A113 on the license plate, but it shows up earlier in the movie on the name tags of the 2 sea lions; the one on the left says “A1” and the one on the right says “13”.

  15. Hey Jon, I’m a big fan of the entire Pixar series, and the Pixar theory as well. I wanted to ask you something regarding very specific details tying all the movies together. The creatures in everyone’s heads, the “emotions” from Inside Out. At the end of the movie, it shows even animals are controlled by these creatures (I call them creatures because even Riley’s parents were controlled by singular ’emotions’ but still had complex emotions).
    So isn’t it safe to assume everyone’s minds work the same way? The incredible, the animals in ratatouille, possibly even the toys because even Woody could dream.
    Inside Out even showed us how memories worked. And this could explain many things, like why Dory cannot control her memory. What if the mechanisms in Dory’s head are broken? After Riley goes through life altering events, her mind is almost destroyed, what if something similar happened in Dory’s head. Even after Riley’s ordeal, her emotions were able to upgrade and fix her mind’s mechanisms, and this could explain why having a family like Marlin and Nemo is causing more activity and upgrades in her mind, giving her the ability to retrieve memories, even long lost ones.

    Considering that almost everyone has a factory in their mind, it’d be safe to assume even Boo had an internal incarnation of Sulley, like Riley did with Bing Bong. Maybe once monsters tried to scare Sid from toy story, and the toys protected him, causing psychological trauma in his brain factory that causes his behavior with making toys into monsters.

    I really think anyone who is as devoted to the theory as we are, should put serious thought into the implications Inside Out can give us.

    Well if you like what you read, don’t be afraid to shoot holes in my ideas, or even drop me an email wanting to discuss some of your more far fetched connections like the Wall-e calendar. Hope you enjoyed.

  16. I am fascinated by your Pixar theory! I was just wondering what you thought of the November calendar in the back of the dentist’s office in Finding Nemo. It shows that November 1st begins on a Sunday which wouldn’t put the movie in 2003 (because November 1st was on a Saturday in 2003). The only times November starts on a Sunday is in 1998 and 2009 which would put Finding Nemo and Finding Dory at a different time.

  17. November 1st was also on a Sunday in 2015

  18. Very good, but… what about Zootopia? Waiting!

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