The Pixar Theory, Part 4: Finding Dory

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.

THE SET UP

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.

FINDING FINDING NEMO

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.

WHAT ABOUT FINDING DORY?

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.

THE DEAL WITH DORY…AGAIN

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.

IS THAT IT?

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.

ANYTHING ELSE?

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.

WHAT’S NEXT?

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.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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49 thoughts

  1. of all the theory related to movies, tvs and kids shows the pixar theory takes the cake. in your theory you have successfully predicted the fact that humans are in fact the source of energy. this is revealed in INSIDE OUT.
    and the fact that animals are becoming self-aware and more intelligent through evolution resolved in THE GOOD DINOSAUR and human correlations that we can see in FINDING DORY. also, the movies that share the timeline of 2000-2050 (our time) has some connection to BnL. we can see this in TOY STORY, UP, FINDING NEMO. whether pixar admits or not i think the theory of a shared universe is plausible.

    now i would like to point out a line of dialogue that has bugged me since the first TOY STORY. it is also repeated in FINDING DORY also.

    the line of dialogue is ‘Have you lost your marbles?’
    it was said by Hamm in TOY STORY, and it is also said in FINDING DORY.
    it may be nothing. but in INSIDE OUT we can that the memories of every living being is portrayed by marbles.
    can it be a hint to the concept introduced in INSIDE OUT? or is it just the pixar-way of saying ‘Have you lost it, mate?;

    something to think about, eh?

    once again, i love your theory. keep up the conspiring.

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    1. I’m sure this has either been explored and either refuted or confirmed but with that said I would like to suggest that every John Ratzenberger character is representative of a higher power. Always a different character “type” but upon reflection always some form of a guide for the protagonists in the movies. A single voice represented in many forms and with a variety of different motivational approaches. A common theme amongst all “higher powers” is that the “higher power” comes in many forms and with different approaches based on the scenario.

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      1. A higher power maybe, but perhaps something deeper.
        I’m wondering if maybe the entire Pixar universe is his story. Like a reincarnated soul that travels from story to story, learning a little something with every story that he’s a part of, every character he interacts with. I feel like he’s less involved in the guidance department, and more so in the role of an observer who might be taking away an important life lesson from the overall theme of the movie.

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  2. I guess the theory makes sense, but… sighs …I guess I don’t want it to be true. I mean, the idea of what happens after Inside Out is bleak and, I guess, not something I want to relate to films about talking toys and talking fish. And I’m 14.

    I don’t really think they would be related, even if all the films were true (I would hope that WALL-E wouldn’t be at least; I think it’s more meant to be a bit of a ‘warning’ anyway). And we know that there weren’t any superheroes in the 60s, and that rats can’t control waiters by pulling their hair.

    I think that the easter eggs were put in there by tired production staff who (especially after rushes like Toy Story 2) wanted to have some in-jokes that only they would get and originally know about. And why not ? That’s what I’d do, anyway. I don’t think the eggs have any other purpose aside from that one.

    (Of course, you could say that they’re just films anyway and are fictional, but I think that (sometimes) it pays to look further into things if you get pleasure out of it.)

    So, while you theory holds water, I personally refuse to really see it as it’s not really my cup of tea. It doesn’t really add anything, and I think that I, for one, prefer the films without it. 🙂

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  3. I’ve noticed that, while they’re not actually Pixar movies, some other Disney films made with CGI animation also fit the Pixar Theory:
    Meet The Robinsons: Intelligent animals (the frogs).
    Zootopia: again, intelligent animals (a whole society of them).
    Wreck-It-Ralph: sentient objects (the videogame characters).

    What do you think?

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  4. What about the relative timelines of finding Nemo, finding Dory, and Inside Out?
    Riley looks to be 10-15 years old in finding Dory (their new car is stopped by the sea otters on the bridge) which puts Inside Out at around the same time as Finding Dory (+- a few years) which is just a year after Nemo.
    However in part 2 you thought that Finding Nemo took place about the year that Riley was born?

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    1. You can also clearly see Riley in frame with Dory in a scene where she’s wandering around the fish tank. She looks 12-14, I’d say, so unless Riley has a secret older sister, I’d suggest changing the timeline around a little bit.

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  5. What if the species that Hank the septipus belongs to eventually evolves into the same species Randall Boggs belongs to in Monsters Inc? Think about it, both species can change color and although Hank was a septipus and had only seven tentacles, he hints that he lost one of his tentacles. This means that he at one point did have all eight tentacles. And how many legs does Randall have? Yes, he has eight legs, just like an octopus. But it gets even more specific than that: since Hank is an octopus he should only be able to blend in with his surroundings and not simply change into whatever color he chooses at will like Randall can. But in the quarantine area of the Marine institute, we see Hank disguising himself as a green plant to avoid being seen by humans. He shouldn’t have been able to do that, since the wall behind him was gray instead of green. This could mean that Hank is already beginning to evolve, and animals are already starting to evolve into the monsters we see in Monsters Inc even in current-day Pixar.

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