Last summer at the D23 Expo, during the portion of the animation panel devoted to Finding Dory, the outrageously anticipated follow-up to genuine masterpiece Finding Nemo, a montage was presented. It was compiled of clips from Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime talk show that showcased all of the times she had brought up the fact that there hadn’t been a Finding Nemo sequel in the past 13 years. It was a hilarious moment for sure but also did much to highlight just how passionate DeGeneres has been about playing the character again.
Now that Finding Dory is finally here, and once again directed by Andrew Stanton (this time joined by co-director Angus MacLane), DeGeneres’ efforts must feel incredibly satisfying because the movie is so, so good. While the central focus of the film has shifted (as the title suggests, it’s centered around DeGeneres’ forgetful Blue Tang), the same amounts of heart, humor, and colorful characters have remained. This is not the same just another Finding Nemo, though; Finding Dory is wackier, wilder, and might be even more emotional.
It also made sitting down with DeGeneres in a Beverly Hills hotel seem even more surreal: we were talking about a movie that she seemingly willed into existence, one that was brought to life by some of the brightest minds in animation, and is now one of the crown jewels in the unimpeachable Disney•Pixar lineup. During our conversation, I talked to Ellen about when she started her advocacy for a sequel, what it was like making Finding Dory, and whether or not she’s ever experienced the attraction she hosts at Epcot.
When did you start advocating for a sequel?
Since it should have been announced that there was a sequel. It started right around the time it should have been announced.
When did Andrew finally call you?
He called me like four years ago, I think. Maybe five years.
What was that phone call like?
He just said, “Uncle.” He said, “I give up.” And I was like, “Andrew, I’m just kidding, I’m not going to do it.” That would have been funny. I should have done that. I should have said, “No way am I interested in this at all. Goodbye.” No, it was great. First of all, I couldn’t believe he was calling, and second of all, I couldn’t believe he said that it’s also going to all be about Dory.
Did you have any ideas about where she should go?
Oh no—he’s a genius. I’m not going to tell him, “Here’s how it’s going to go.”
Was it like you guys picked up where you left off the last time?
Yes, it was. It was eerie. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do Dory again, or speak whale. I didn’t know if it was going to come back to me. And it did.
Were you surprised by it?
I was surprised by all of it. I was surprised by the fact—I mean, time is such a strange thing when you think about it. It’s just so weird that it was long ago that I did that, and yet I don’t really remember doing the first one, and it just seemed like it was last year, and then we got the phone call to sit in here, and doing a press junket, and having a premiere last night, I can’t believe that’s come and now … The premiere was last night!
There’s a moment in the Art of book where Marlin and Nemo met up with the Tank Gang. Was there anything else that dramatically changed about the script since you were involved?
I’m a little like Dory, you’ll have to forgive me, so I don’t really remember that. I know that we changed a lot, and I know that I went in and did scenes, and then he would call me and say, “We’re re-writing that, come back in and we’ll do something else.” We’d change subtle things.
When you were recording as Dory the first time did you ever wonder about her family?
No, had I thought of that, I would have called them and said, “Hey, here’s the sequel, Andrew, and I’m going to get a writing credit. We’re going to be looking for her family, and you’re going to cast Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. You’re going to put the people from Modern Family in because they’re funny.” Um, no, I didn’t think about the follow-up. I didn’t think about it from my fish’s POV, like, What happens to Dory? To me, it was Dory helping find Nemo, and I was just the kind of side-car character, so I didn’t really go, What about me? That’s a good thing. I didn’t go to ‘my fish.’
Did you ever record with any of other actors?
No, never. A lot of people are scared of me, I think.
This movie looks so amazing. Were you surprised by anything?
It was kind of overwhelming when I saw it with the staff the first time, which was a couple months ago, I guess. Last night seeing it with an audience was a whole different feeling, which is why I recommend seeing it three or four times, at least. It’s definitely what I got from it last night, versus when I first saw it, is that it’s a very adult film. It’s a kids’ film because it’s an animated film and they’re going to go see it—it’s layered, it’s very clever. It’s very funny and very beautiful to watch. It’s just got great messaging. That’s what I picked up—that it’s a lot more complex this time around.
Do you have a favorite new character?
Someone asked me that with everybody [else in the cast] with me, and that was hard. But not everybody is with me … I love Hank, he’s fantastic. If we would have been in the same room together, I don’t know if we would have gotten anything better. It’s hard to say, but he and I together are great, I just love him so much. Yeah, I love Hank.
Are you able to interject or improvise?
Yeah, there are things written, but once I do that I kind of go off, and sometimes I use part of what they give me. And sometimes I have other ideas. I give them everything. I give them what I want, and then I give them all these other options, and there are all these other ad libs that they encourage.
Are you ever surprised with what makes it into the movie?
The one thing—because it’s been three years [since recording Finding Dory] and I don’t really remember what my ad libs were because I just go in there and talk, I don’t remember what was written and what were my ad libs because they all just kind of blur—but Andrew reminded me that one of the ad libs that I had, when I’m looking at the map and I say, “Seriously? How could anyone see this park in one day?” That was my ad lib.
What if this movie hadn’t met expectations?
I would say that I’m not available for press. It’s really, really hard because I have people on my show and I have to watch their movies and sometimes they’re not good movies. Sometimes they don’t know they’re not good movies, and they’re there promoting it. And sometimes they’ll whisper to me or to the producer, “I’m not proud of it either, but I have to be here.” It’s tough because when you make a movie you have to promote it, no matter what, you have to be a part of it. These are two long days and I’m talking about this movie non-stop, and I’m thrilled to talk about it because I’m proud of it, I love it, I think it’s amazing, and the feedback — everyone who has seen it is beyond ecstatic. It’s not just that people like it; people love it.
So it exceeded your expectations?
Oh yeah. Completely. I just thought it was going to be another Finding Nemo, which was a great movie, but I thought it was going to be that kind of same feel. But like I was saying, there are so many more things going on.
Do you ever get recognized by kids?
No, but I think I will after this because it’s a bigger deal, and also, I’m more known, but I’m kind of off for the summer, so I’ll probably notice it now that I’m running around this summer. When I talk people recognize my voice. I’ll be in a store or a restaurant, and people will turn around when I start talking; I guess I have a recognizable voice.
Have you already started campaign for a third film?
No, but Albert Brooks said, “Let’s do it before we all die.” I just think we should do it before I sound like Lauren Bacall. I think the older I get — my voice may change, I don’t know. But if he’s going to do it, he should hurry up.
Did you ever bat around ideas while you were making this one?
No, but now that I think Hank is so great. We’ll see.
Well, we don’t know how Hank lost his tentacle.
Flashback? Maybe baby Hank? That’s a great sequel. Baby Hank!
Talk last time around there was talk of an Academy Award nomination for you. Something you would campaign for?
I don’t know if I’d push for, but I’d welcome it. I mean, Portia actually said to me this morning, if they would give an Academy Award for voice performances, I should get it. I mean, Portia said over and over, “I can’t tell you how good of an actress you are. You really are a great actress.” Because it is, it really is a different form of acting. You were acting with your voice, you don’t have the benefit of facial expression or body language, you’re really just giving your performance with your voice, which I love. It’s really a challenge. So, I won’t push for it, but you can push for it.
You are also a part of the Universe of Energy attraction at Epcot. Have you gone on it recently?
I’ve never seen it. I hear it’s very popular.
What was it like filming that?
It’s crazy, it’s very, very noisy because the film process and the technique. I remember it being very loud, and Joely Fisher, who was on my show, met her husband. He was the camera director, and they’re still married and have kids. They met when she came to visit me on set, and he was the camera guy. I’m responsible for their marriage and many children because of that Epcot ride. I remember it somewhat … It was so long ago.
Finding Dory is now playing in theaters.