If you've watched any of the new Disney+ documentary series, Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2, then you have a good idea of just how strange and chaotic the life cycle of an animated movie can be. It's far from unusual to see massive changes to the core story while it is being actively animated. Sometimes a new idea is finally found, or a new song is written, which completely changes the direction of the story. In the case of Pixar's Finding Nemo, director Andrew Stanton has revealed that Ellen DeGeneres was the solution to one problem that movie was facing, when he realized that the role of Marlin's companion needed to be female.
In a recent conversation with the Los Angeles Times about Finding Nemo, Andrew Stanton explained that originally, the fish that Marlin met on his quest to save Nemo was named Gil, and that Gil was male. It seems Stanton felt that since the driving themes of the movie were fatherhood, Marlin needed a male character to help take him through that journey. According to Stanton...
To be honest, I had this really dumb, male, naive view that the guide that should take the father through should be a male fish.
It's perhaps understandable why Andrew Stanton felt that the character should be male. It's easy to see why that was the first place he went. At the same time, he realizes now that assumption was naive. It was clearly a knee-jerk reaction that he just didn't question initially. It turns out he should have. He might have found the answer that much sooner.
Something about the character wasn't working, but Andrew Stanton couldn't put his finger on what it was, until he was listening to his wife watching an episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the sitcom starring the comedian, which was in its final season at the time. He heard Ellen deliver a line in a way that changed Gil into Dory...
I heard [DeGeneres] change the sentence — the subject of a sentence — five times before she got from beginning to the end, and a light bulb went off that was an appealing, progressive way to be able to do short-term memory that wouldn’t get old really quick. And then I couldn’t get her ... voice out of my head, and suddenly all the writer’s block I had just unloaded. And then I started to think, ‘Well, why not? Why can’t it be a female? And why can’t it be a platonic relationship?
From that point on, Dory wasn't just female, she was Ellen. Andrew Stanton says he admitted to DeGeneres when he sent her the script that he was "screwed" if she didn't take the part, because he didn't have anybody else in mind. He had written the part for her.
Luckily, Ellen did take the role, and the rest is history. We not only got the classic Finding Nemo, but a solid sequel in Finding Dory. And Gil wasn't forgotten, he got to be in the fish tank.