'Finding Dory' Preview: Hank the Octopus Jumps Into the Pool

Finding Dory Octopus  - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney

Thirteen years after Finding Nemo made a big splash — grossing $936.7 million worldwide and earning director Andrew Stanton a best feature animation Oscar — Pixar Animation Studios is returning to the sea with a sequel, Finding Dory, hitting theaters June 17.

In the long-awaited follow-up, Ellen DeGeneres' forgetful Dory is promoted from comic sidekick to full-fledged heroine of her own story. And new locations and characters are introduced — most prominently a curmudgeonly octopus named Hank, voiced by Ed O'Neill.

Unveiling a 20-minute preview of footage at Pixar's Emeryville headquarters, writer-director Stanton explained the process that lead to the new film. "Nobody plans for a sequel to come out that much later," he admitted of the 13-year gap between films, "but seven years later, I had to watch the movie again for a rerelease in 3D, and I was reminded of the story. I realized Dory could get lost just as easily as she could in the first movie. She had short-term memory loss. I realized she had a lot of ingredients that were worthy of a main character for a story. I would like to know if Dory could find her way home if she ever gets lost. That stuck with me for a couple more years. About 2011, I got serious about a sequel."

While the first movie centered on Albert Brook's Marlin, a clown fish, as he searches for his son Nemo (voiced by Alexander Gould), the new movie focuses on Dory, a blue tang, in search of her own family. Marlin and Nemo (now voiced by Hayden Rolance) agree to help Dory in her quest. "Marlin and Nemo are very much in the movie," Stanton promised.

But the filmmakers also realized that Dory needed a new character to play against, which led to the creation of Hank. Dory meets up with the octopus — technically, he should probably be considered a septopus, because he's lost one tentacle — at California's Marine Life Institute, an aquarium and rehabilitation center created for the film. (The animators visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium for inspiration.)

"We wanted to try other species that we hadn't seen in the first movie," Stanton explained. "And we needed a way for a fish to move across man-made areas if there wasn't water. What better way than an octopus that could basically squeeze in and crawl over anything." Hank's camouflage ability is glimpsed in the movie's trailer as he moves around the lab.

Continued Stanton, "Hank is on the lam and trying to get himself to a permanent installation — basically stay on sick leave, so that he will never have to go back to the ocean again, because he really doesn't like other people." That provided a curmudgeon that could be pitted against Dory's enthusiastic spirit. "Dory's at her best when she's with people that basically need help," he said. "She's such a helper, a caregiving soul. And she's impervious to the signals people give her if they want her to go away. That makes for fun and entertaining scenes and for good drama."

Stanton credited writer Victoria Strouse for helping to create the Dory-Hank dynamic. "I wanted it to have a slightly different voice — it was more of a female story — and I wanted it to feel harmonious to the first movie and have its own identify," he said of adding Strouse to the team.

Other voices new to the film will include Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy, who play Dory's parents; Ty Burrell as Bailey, a beluga whale; and Kaitlin Olson as Destiny, a whale shark.

Stanton insisted he realizes creating a Nemo sequel comes with a certain responsibility. "I'm very aware how beloved the first film is, and I'm very grateful for that. You don't think you are necessarily striking lighting twice all the time. The only thing I could put my chips in was that it was a story that I would emotionally want to tell even if there wasn't a film before it," the director said of the new undersea voyage. "I sat on this idea internally for close to a year, letting only a few people know I was thinking about it. I knew the minute it got out I wouldn't be able to put the horse back in the barn."