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The post wherein I gush about the screenplay for "Finding Dory"

One of the big challenges I have with writing a story is finding ways to both set up a proper story structure, but also insert fun action or comedy sequences.  Or, to put it another way, how do you do your homework (i.e., tell a competent story) and still have time for fun (i.e., blow shit up)?

It's sometimes a delicate tightrope act.  As a reader and a moviegoer, it bothers me when something is shoehorned in merely for the sake of putting energy in a story.  Like, say, a car chase.  Sure, it's fun to see something flip over, but if it doesn't mean anything at the end, then you're basically just making an episodic grind.  "Plot, car chase, plot, shootout, plot, car chase."  It gets old and predictable very quickly.

This is one of the reasons I really appreciate Pixar's movies.  Their screenplays are usually excellent examples of how to do exactly this, and Finding Dory offers more of the same.

A specific example: there's a sequence fairly early on where Dory, Marlin, and Nemo unwittingly swim into a squid's lair.  The squid wakes up and tries to eat them.  Then you have a minute or two for a manic chase sequence.  During that chase, Dory frantically swims through an old truck full of soda cans and gets a plastic divider stuck around her body.  When the chase ends, she gets scooped out of the water by conservationists who specifically pick her up to get the divider off, and this ends up being the reason she gets sent to the Marine Institute, which is where the majority of the movie's plot is introduced.

So, what could have just been a meaningless squid chase (which, in a world inhabited by anthropomorphic fish, is the same thing as a car chase) ends up being a pivotal plot point - Dory would not have gone from Point C to Point D if she hadn't been chased by the squid/car.

I admire that kind of structure.  I love when I'm getting into a story and everything clicks.


Finding Dory does similar handiwork toward the end, wherein Dory comes into her own as an active protagonist and formulates a plan to rescue some of her friends.  It gets a little bit manic, maybe too much so, but you see the same designs at work: stuff is happening not just because it's funny/frenetic, but because it will make other things happen.

And that leads to one particular moment which I'm not sure is good or not.  Mild spoilers coming up.

There's a part where Dory is in the ocean and needs to get into a truck on a bridge above her.  She spies some sea otters nearby and the soundtrack has a funny little "ding!" sound effect to let you know she has a plan.  Then she says something like, "Okay, guys, I need you to get up there and follow my lead."  Then she turns to her whale shark friend and tells her to flip her up to the overpass on her tail.  Then, before actually discussing her plan with anybody else, she has a brief aside to another character, and suddenly her plan gets put into motion.

What's cool about this sequence is that the movie knows it'll be fun for you to watch Dory's plan unfold, so it doesn't waste any time on unnecessary dialogue setting it up.  So, about fifteen seconds after Dory comes up with her plan, they put it into motion.

...but she never actually tells anybody what to do.  They just know it.  (To be fair, she does give one instruction to the otters after she gets on the bridge, but they've already gotten into proper formation to carry everything out by that point.)

I put it out there as a question to the Internet: is that good writing or no?  I'm honestly not sure.  It's definitely functional writing - it gives the audience all we need to know and it keeps up a snappy pace.  But it's not exactly logical writing.

I admire the script all the more for that.  See, this is the kind of thing that would hamper me if I was writing the story.  I'd keep thinking, "I've got to put a little cutaway scene in here so the implication is that Dory explained her plan, and then we can cut back and watch her carry it out."  And then I'd obsess about the exact right scene to cut to, and how long it should play out, and whether that would make the pacing better or worse.

And if I couldn't think of a good cutaway, I'd just have Dory say something like, "Line up in front of all the cars and catch me!  I'll tell you what to do when I get up there!" But I can't actually say that the extra line makes that scene better - it's pretty redundant given that you're going to see everything happen in just a moment.

I think shorthand like that is the sort of thing that writers do when they have... what's the word... confidence?  Yeah, that sounds pretty nice.  Somebody tell me where I can buy some.