The good folks at Pixar have done it again. Extraordinarily, twelve years have passed since Finding Nemo won hearts and minds all over the world and long-awaited sequel Finding Dory is another sure-fire hit for the peerless production studio. Writer-director Andrew Stanton – who was part of the team to get the Toy Story train rolling, helmed the former film as well as 2008’s magical robotic tale Wall-E – and producer Lindsey Collins sat down with CineVue’s Matthew Anderson for a chat about Pixar’s continued successes.
Matthew Anderson: You’ve both had the privilege of being involved with Pixar almost since its inception. Did you ever think, at the time of Toy Story, that we would be sitting here today?
Andrew Stanton: Pre-Toy Story I didn’t think that Toy Story was going to happen. That was such a huge surprise and chance of a lifetime that pretty much everything since has just been gravy. It’s gone past the word surreal, it’s in a weird place all of its own. It’s very strange.
Lindsey Collins: We do feel that way about every film. That certainly is the feeling on the films as we’re making them. That sense of “This may be last one we get to do.” You have that attitude and not only just because of the pressure of trying to get the film done and making sure it’s good but also because you feel the responsibility of the rest of the studio and you want to make sure that everyone else gets to make the same kind of films that they want to make.
AS: We’re in this rare club now where we’ve seen our films survive and last through a generation. And we’ve seen what we’re aiming for all along: that we were in it for the grandkids, not just the kids. Without the hype, the pomp and circumstance, without any of that stuff, somebody will now discover an earlier film of ours and enjoy it as much as I did the Disney Classics. And that’s the club we wanted to be in. It gives you incentive to apply the same standards and ignore all the present day pressures and assumptions because you’ve seen how temporal they are. Every single bit of hype, whether positive or negative, and everything that has been said about us or a film – they’ve just gone so quickly and all that remains is that film on a shelf. It gives you a very healthy perspective on where to put your efforts.
MA: In the beginning, then, you thought this may be just a short term project but now it’s been over twenty years. How does the ethos of the studios evolve over time?
LC: When it started we were all kind of partying and drinking wine coolers and now we all have families. It’s evolved in the sense that we have quite a few people who have now worked there for twenty years plus. Therefore as filmmakers there’s a shorthand we have with another but there’s also so much more experience than what we had starting out. I think you see that in the films, in the choices that the directors make, the subtlety of trying some things as I don’t know if you would have tried in the first film.
AS: There’s definitely a maturity of what we’ve learnt over the years and that’s starting to show, I think.
MA: You harked back to your watching of Disney classics, and as an adult I find there is still a childlike joy in watching Pixar productions. There’s always as much for adults as children in the films; how do you hit that right balance, and teaching life lessons as well as entertaining?
AS: Never thinking like that. Seriously, that’s the key. If you think like that you’re starting off on the wrong foot; you just write what you want to see. Then there’s plenty of time to find out that you could be a little more inclusive for the kids. I give them way more credit than I think adults usually do – I frankly think kids have a much stronger muscle at discerning and trying to understand what they don’t understand than adults do. I think that adults get lazy as they get older.
LC: When we make movies we try not to exclude anyone. Rather than make a movie for that person or that person it’s more about making sure we’re not excluding anyone.
AS: I think there’s a commodification to movies. Because they are so observed now, like sports, with statistics, it’s seen as a product. Internally we never look at it that way – we look at it as art. When you think of it from that perspective nobody hopes that their favourite rock band’s album is demographically figured out ahead of time. Or a piece of artwork being understood by a certain age group. They are just making what they want to make. They’re probably going to try something that nobody would think they might like and that’s why you follow them. And we try to give the same respect to our audience. We are just making what we would like.
MA: Animation, broadly speaking, can teach us as much about humanity as any live action film. What is it that appeals the most about using now well-known sea creatures to teach people of all ages about how we treat one another?
LC: I think in a weird way that because it is not real people it allows us to go a little bit further with things. It gives us a little more leeway to be a little more serious.
AS: Talk about subjects that are hard to talk about. Lindsey: Yeah, and I think it allows the audience to feel like they are being taken into a different world. There is something that is more open about it; it’s safer. There’s a joke online that describes Nemo: starts with a murder, then a kidnapping, and then a mentally challenged woman is taken along for the ride to help find the kidnapped son. That’s Finding Nemo.
AS: That’s the plotting but at the same time the emotions, conflicts and relationships that you’re trying to work with underneath all these cartoony things are accurate and universal.
LC: I think that that’s what special about Pixar because, traditionally, Disney animation when I was a kid had more of a fairy tale concept to it. It was teaching good and evil, there were archetypal characters and what I’ve found with Pixar – before I even started working there – was the fact they made it much more about the personal issues you are dealing with, your personal demons and not the demons epitomised in the villain. I think it tends to work and people go along for the ride.
Disney Pixar’s Finding Dory is released in UK cinemas nationwide from this Friday.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens