If you, like me, have been waiting patiently for the sequel to the animated emotional guillotine Finding Nemo, then this weekend’s all about turning up to Pixar. Finding Dory, the origin story of an empathetic blue tang with short-term memory loss, hits theaters everywhere this weekend. And lest we all forget how great its predecessor was, Finding Nemo (and many of its Pixar counterparts, for that matter) maintains a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. To say that precursory expectations were exceptionally high would be apt; a January survey from Fandango showed that Dory polled second only to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as the year’s most anticipated film. But how will it stack up to its prequel? And how, if at all, will it expand the existing universe that viewers have come to know and love?
To answer these questions we hit up Jon Negroni, the guy behind The Pixar Theory, which places every film under the Pixar umbrella on a timeline in the same universe. The continuum, Negroni asserts, begins with The Good Dinosaur and ends, for now, with Monsters Inc. Dory may fit somewhere in between there: Negroni says her intelligence (and that of her sentient oceanic pals) is integral to how this universe evolved—how we jumped from the Middle Ages in Brave to a future where good humored monsters carry briefcases and build careers around scaring the shit out of small children. Going even further, Negroni, a bonafide expert in all things Pixar, gave us the scoop on how Dory’s wokeness will help build out its existing universe, digging into his theory, and a definitive answer on which Pixar flick is the Greatest of All Time.
One of the most interesting parts of your theory is the intellectual advancement of animals becoming as smart as humans, but Dory seems to be on a completely different wavelength. What’s your take on that? Is she some sort of low-key genius?
If you just look at the first film, Finding Nemo, that movie spent a lot of time just fleshing out the quirkiness of this character. She had all these peculiarities about her—she was able to speak whale, she had short term memory loss—but she's a very empathetic character. She creates these really firm connections with people very quickly, and she's very intelligent. She can read, and it's interesting that the Finding Dory gives her a little bit of origin, and gives us some perspective on where she came from.
Nemo and Dory would exist sort of in the middle of your Pixar Universe timeline, correct?
Yeah, very close to the middle because a lot of the Pixar films do take place in the modern day, in the near future, or not that long ago.
Can you prove it? Are there clues about how this film fits with your continuum?
There are a lot of interesting connections that keep this Finding Nemo story in the 2000s. We have a character from Finding Nemo who appears in Toy Story 3—a movie that I think takes place in 2007 for very elaborate reasons I won’t bore you with—but in that movie we see Darla, the niece of the dentist, for example. She’s on the cover of a magazine, presumably four years later after Finding Nemo. So with Finding Dory, is it in 2004 or 2005? That’s probably what we’re looking at, and it could be different. It depends once the Pixar detectives, myself included, get their hands on this movie and we’re able to watch it a million times. I’m sure all the crazy theories and timeline adjustments are going to be all over the place.
Monsters Inc. is sort of the glue that holds this universe together, right? Can you explain why?
Monsters Inc. is a movie about monsters that go through these doors—they’re in some sort of unspoken parallel dimension. I believe that's because of a lot of the events that happen in the movies like Finding Nemo and Up and Wall-E and Cars. We eventually have this world where there are no humans left. But the monsters, who are these evolved sort of animals and men, they need this energy—energy that movies like Inside Out, for example, tell us about. We’re able to see how emotions and how children, when they’re playing with new toys, are able to spark up life almost. And in Monsters Inc. they want to get a hold of that emotion. They want to get a hold of that life that we see in Inside Out. So they create these doors that let us go back in time, and they’re able to go and find these children. In a weird way, they harvest energy.
It’s sort of Matrix-like.
What’s been the biggest criticism of the Pixar Theory or of this world and timeline?
There are all kinds, you know. I’ve always been given a lot of criticism for putting A Bug’s Life after the events of Wall-E and Cars and it taking a place in a world where there are no humans. There are hardly any humans left, and I have my reasons for that, of course. And then I’ve gotten all kinds of criticisms for, like, “What about the shorts? You don’t want to include any of the Pixar shorts? What about the goofs and the bloopers? Was any of that relevant? How do you explain that?”
Probably the biggest thing, and a lot of people consider this a way to debunk the theory: but the very last movie, Monsters Inc., you have Sully forming this relationship with Boo. Part of my theory is that that little girl Boo from Monsters Inc., she grows up and learns how to travel through time because she wants to find Sully. And she eventually finds herself becoming the witch from Brave. And it’s based on some of the additives from that movie Brave, things that we’ve seen from workshop that connect her to Monsters Inc. People have said, “Well isn’t that a time loop? Isn’t that a paradox?” That’s probably the biggest criticism, and I think it’s based on sort of a misunderstanding of what I was trying to present with that. I wasn’t trying to say that Boo sort of creates this continuum, merely that she is sort of part of it. The ideas of the animals becoming intelligent and there being magic in this world, it’s not something that she alone caused or created or cultivated in Brave, but she’s kind of a victim of it.
If you had to pick one Pixar movie or short as the best, what is it and why?
For me, it's always been between two movies in particular, and that's the first Toy Story and The Incredibles. Can I just go back on Toy Story? I mean, what a flawless film for what it was in 1995. I had the pleasure of being able to watch it on the big screen not that long ago and seeing more of what went into making it, and how they were able to craft just a story that's so balanced in terms of the jokes, how the animation looks, the visuals, the voice acting, the characters. That movie just set the tone for years forward, and it can be kind of a cheap thing to say, “Oh the first one is the best.” I just have a hard time looking at any other Pixar movie that does so much with what’s given the way Toy Story does.