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Ellen says Finding Dory looks at disabilities in positive way

Ever since Finding Nemo became a global box-office phenomenon 13 years ago, Ellen DeGeneres has tirelessly campaigned for a sequel. Imagining in her wildest dreams that Pixar would create Finding Dory, a sequel all about her character, Dory.

Dory, DeGeneres’ fishy alter ego, suffers from short-term memory loss, which became a creative challenge for filmmaker Andrew Stanton. But then he hit on the idea of giving Dory a new partner in her quest to find her long-lost parents: With the aid of a grumpy octopus named Hank, voiced by Modern Family‘s Ed O’Neill, the forgetful fish discovers a mate to help navigate the waters of her forgetfulness.

One of the world’s most successful out businesswomen, DeGeneres, 58, didn’t need this role for the money. In addition to her hit daytime talk show, she hasa new lifestyle apparel brand — ED by Ellen — and a contract with Covergirl. She’s also a successful house-flipper, known for buying and renovating high-end properties around Los Angeles, then selling them for a profit.

None of this would be possible without her wife and the love of her life, Australian actress Portia de Rossi, whom she wed 8 years ago.

Unburdened by children, the couple are happy to share their lives with their beloved dogs.

We spoke with Ellen about her inner fish.

Q: Dory suffers from short-term memory loss. We all get forgetful as we age. Has this been your experience?

Ellen: I’m always surprised when people are prescribed medicine to help with forgetfulness, because how are you going to remember to take your medicine? I do have that problem with memory, not as bad as she does, but I don’t plan to do anything about it because its just who I am. And I’m just going to live in the moment and hold on to those few moments that I have.

Q: It’s rumoured there’s a gay couple in Finding Dory?

Ellen: Are you asking if Elsa from Frozen is gay? Is that what you’re saying?

Q: No! But is there a gay couple in Finding Dory?

Ellen: I don’t know if there is, and I didn’t know anything about it until I read this rumour. … I was watching it last night and was looking for that particular scene, and it appears that there are two women and (of them) has a very bad short hair-cut, and I find it offensive that people would deduce she’s gay. How dare you? Just because a woman has a short bad haircut doesn’t mean she’s gay, so I don’t know if that’s the case. But I think if you see the movie several times, which I recommend, if you see the movie four or five times, there are some gay fish in the background, a lot of them look very gay to me.

Q: Are you proud to see so much more diversity out there?

Ellen: I personally think it’s a great thing. I think that everything that we see in the media, whether it’s television or film, should represent everything that’s happening in the world. I think everybody that is in the world should be seen and represented so, yes, it’s a great conversation. And whether they intended it to be a woman with a bad short hair-cut being gay or not, I think it’s great.

Q: Finding Neo director Andrew Stanton felt bad that he’d left Dory hanging on for so long. Did you privately wonder what had happened to her?

Ellen: No I really didn’t, and had I thought about it and done actually what Andrew did and think about: Where is Dory from? Who is her family? I would have called him sooner and said: Here’s the sequel, here’s the idea and then I wouldn’t have (had) to wait so long.

Q: Do you think Dory’s story is sad? Being parted from her parents all this time?

Ellen: When you think about it, I actually don’t think it is tragic. I think you can look at it that way, but as we see in this film, what appears to be a disability is her strength and it turns into: What would Dory do? So maybe what appears to be a disability is actually something that everybody else can look at in another way and say: Actually that’s a different way of thinking, and it’s a good way of thinking, so I love that message in it that something that seems to be a handicap is something you can use as a strength.

Q: You’ve always hoped there’d be a sequel to Finding Nemo. Did you help Pixar come up with this storyline for Dory?

Ellen: I am responsible for every penny that this film makes because this movie would not have happened had I not campaigned as hard as I did. Thank God I have a talk show to talk about it. I just seemed like it was obvious. The film was an iconic film and it won an Academy award. I was a small part of it. I wasn’t campaigning for a sequel to Dory — I was just campaigning for a sequel to a great movie, and then when it didn’t happen for the first five or six years, I just decided to make a joke of it. It just seemed like it was never going to happen, so I would just continue to joke about it, and then the joke became a reality and it became about Dory’s journey. So I’m responsible for every single thing that happens from now on.

Q: Which of Dory’s adorable traits do you share?

Ellen: I would love to have every trait of Dory’s, and I try to have as many traits as she has — optimism, perseverance, non-judgment and not having any resentment or holding on to anger. She doesn’t feel like she’s a victim. I think that’s why she’s such a loveable character. She just thinks everything is possible and she never for a second thinks that anything is wrong with anybody else or herself. She just keeps swimming, and I think that’s a great thing. I’d like to have all of those traits.

Q: Why do you think that Finding Nemo and now Finding Dory have been so relatable on a human level?

Ellen: I think it’s so much more than a cartoon movie. It’s much more complex and layered than any of us thought it would be. And it’s much more complex and layered than Nemo, and Nemo is a great movie but there’s so many layers to this. It is a very personal story for Dory and it is emotional.

Q: Did you cry when you first saw it?

Ellen: It was very easy for me to cry — and it was very sad seeing everything Dory is going through and feeling. These are all human feelings, they’re all the same feelings that we all have. And it does show the power of these animators, because they make it so beautiful and so realistic. And the characters they create are so complex, because you do get emotional and you do cry at a fish. And we all cried. It’s a beautiful story.

Q: And Dory is just searching for her home, a family, a place to belong?

Ellen: I think everybody is searching for their home, whatever that is. I think home is different for everybody. I understand what a sense of belonging is, and I understand when you are saying: Why am I who I am? Where did I come from and how did I end up where I am? I can relate to that. I think everybody can.

Q: In real life, are you analytical and cautious like Marlin or more like Dory in her take-every-moment as it comes attitude?

Ellen: It just depends on the situation. I think that I analyse. I look around and analyze and observe all kinds of things. And I try to not do anything irresponsible, but I also do like to be spontaneous.

Q: Do you plan or just go with the flow like Dory?

Ellen: I’m definitely a planner.

Q: So many women are in love with you, even though they are straight?

Ellen: Yeah, I’ve dated them before.

Q: Did you spend hours at the aquarium in preparation for voicing Dory?

Ellen: I didn’t really stare at any fish in an aquarium. I’ve seen them. The honest answer is I didn’t really do any research. But I really care about, and always have cared about, nature and our planet and the environment. And I think it’s important to protect our oceans and our fish and the coral reef and everything because it’s a beautiful world that we know very little world about. And I think there’s probably all kinds of answers and all kinds of cures and all kind of things that we can learn, so I think it’s really important to protect our oceans.

Q: Hank, the grumpy octopus, almost takes on the same role that Dory did with Marlin in Finding Nemo — helping him search for his missing son. Do you see a sequel in the future starring Hank?

Ellen: I said to Ed just a few minutes ago: I bet this movie will have a sequel with you as young Hank, all angry and grumpy.

Q: A lot of Pixar’s animated characters take on the likenesses of the actors who voice them. Do you feel like your share any physical characteristics with Dory?

Ellen: People have said that Dory does look like me, but I don’t see it personally

Q: What would you tell your six-year-old self?

Ellen: I think as you get older you get wiser and you start looking at life in a completely different way. And Iife is a very interesting journey, and it is filled with surprises and sometimes they’re good surprises and sometimes they’re bad surprises. And they’re all good, because even the bad ones get you ready for something else and they build another part of you that you wouldn’t have (had). I think we’re made up of all kinds of different things. If we were just made up of love and joy and all good things — and nothing bad happened to us — we’d just be a little less layered. Embrace the bad with the good and just keep swimming. 

Q: Plot spoiler here! But Dory has a beautiful reunion with her parents, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. Did you all record that scene together?

Ellen: I was alone for the reunion scene. It was a beautiful thing to read, and it was sad and it touched me and I could imagine what it was going to be like. And it was very emotional for me to record that day.

 Q: Did you meet with the young actress who voices Dory as a child?

Ellen: That was a precious little girl who was behind me at the movie theatre at the premiere. She felt a special connection with me. It was so adorable because she was: You’re me! And that was precious. I don’t want to reveal her identity, unless someone asks me. That was the first time I had met her.

Q: Is there a message to Finding Dory?

Ellen: I think the message is that we can all get along, even though we’re different species and look different and have different traits.

Ahead of ‘Finding Dory,’ consumers urged not to buy wild-caught fish as pets 

In advance of the release of Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory, animal protection and conservation groups are urging consumers not to buy fish like Dory, a blue tang, or other wild-caught fish as pets for home aquariums.

While many freshwater fish can be bred in captivity, most saltwater fish offered for sale for aquariums are captured in the wild and taken primarily from coral reefs in the Philippines and Indonesia, often using cyanide that kills coral and other animals. These fish have complex needs that cannot be replicated in home aquariums, resulting in high mortality rates.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, the Center for Biological Diversity and For the Fishes welcome the awareness about marine species that Finding Dory will create but warn that a sharp increase in demand of blue tangs could have severe impacts on the species. Finding Dory is a sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo, which triggered millions of consumers and moviegoers to purchase wild-caught clownfish. The sudden mass demand and subsequent capture of millions of clownfish from their homes decimated wild populations, causing irreparable harm to both the species and the coral reefs they inhabited. Many consumers were unaware that clownfish were wild caught from their native reefs at that time, not bred or raised in captivity.

Although clownfish are now able to be bred in captivity, blue tangs have not been successfully bred in captivity, and captive-bred blue tangs are not available for purchase for home aquariums. While blue tangs are sold as 1- to 2-inch animals, they reach 12 inches as adults and have difficult care requirements, making them unsuitable for most home aquarists. Species this size, and with natural wide-roaming behaviors on the reef, require a minimum tank size of 180 gallons, which is about the size of a small sofa and at least three times larger than the average home tank.

Disney recognized the potential unintended consequences of the film and developed educational materials to inform the public, including recommendations to “Always select appropriate acquacultured fish as a first choice for your home aquarium,” and that “Blue tangs, like Dory, do not make good pets. Instead choose appropriate acquacultured fish.” The HSUS and HSI commend Disney for its efforts to support responsible pet ownership and help drive the market toward captive-raised, not wild-caught, ornamental fish.

“We are already seeing a troublesome increase in the number of blue tangs offered for sale to unknowing consumers in preparation for the release of Finding Dory,” said Rene Umberger of For the Fishes, creator of Tank Watch, a free mobile app that allows consumers to find out if a fish is wild caught, and inappropriate as a pet, or captive bred.

Finding Nemo created appreciation for the diversity of marine life and prompted many people to realize the negative impact of keeping wild-caught aquarium fish,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for HSI. “Sadly, it also had the effect of prompting some consumers to purchase animals they are ill-equipped to care for. In the case of wild-caught marine animals, the majority of these creatures live only a fraction of their natural lives if they are kept in a home aquarium, if they survive being captured and transported.”

“People can literally love these beautiful fish to death and we don’t want to see that happen again,” said Nicholas Whipps with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Films like this can prompt people to buy wild-caught fish for their aquariums and have major impacts on sensitive coral reef ecosystems. Consumers should educate themselves before stocking an aquarium with wild-caught fish.”

All three groups filed a legal petition in March asking the U.S. government to test imported aquarium fish for cyanide poisoning and to urge the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries that use reef-damaging cyanide fishing to enforce their laws against the practice.

In a new critically acclaimed book, What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe, director of animal sentience for the Humane Society Institute for Science and Policy, writes about the diversity and beauty of fish and how individual fishes think, feel and behave.

What the public can do:

• Never buy wild-caught animals, including blue tangs, as pets for home aquaria.

• Sign the pledge ‘Don’t Buy Wild’ — whether fish, birds or other wild animals.

• If you are thinking of purchasing a fish, download the free Tank Watch App hereand find out which are wild caught and which survive best in home aquaria.

• Spread the word on social media.

Underdogs strive to survive an unoriginal summer film season

Hollywood’s summer film slate, which kicks off with the fittingly combative Captain America: Civil War, will be a season of struggle: for box office dollars, for originality and for opportunity.

More than ever, the big tent of summer moviegoing is held up by a forest of tentpoles stretching from May to August. The swelling size of the summer movie has turned the season into a game of survival. Testosterone often dominates in front of and (especially) behind the camera, and few non-sequel, non-reboot films dare to compete.

images - wigout - 051916 - JasonBourneBox office and stress levels run high in equal measure.

“It’s a different landscape than 2002 when the first Bourne movie came out,” says Matt Damon, who returns to the franchise in Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne (July 29). “It’s like a high-stakes poker game that I don’t want to be in. The swings are just so brutal. Ben (Affleck) just opened Batman v Superman a few weeks ago. Everyone around him and in his life was nervous about it. You feel less a sense of exultation when they do well and more a sense of relief because the bets are so big now.”

This season is particularly risk-adverse. Out of the 33 films coming from the major studios, only 12 aren’t a sequel, reboot or based on an already popular property, such as a video game or best-seller. Take comedy and horror out of the equation and you’re left with just a handful of originals. One of them is Jodie Foster’s Money Monster (May 13), a thriller about a brash financial news pundit taken hostage on the air, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

images - wigout - 051916 - MoneyMonsterFoster’s film is doubly rare. She’s one of only two female filmmakers helming major studio releases this summer. Though equality remains a year-round issue for the movie business, the constricted summer months can reveal Hollywood at its most retrograde.

“It’s interesting to me that the studio system still sees women as a risk,” says Foster, who wonders if women ultimately even want to inherit some of the kinds of films that dominate the summer. “There are movies that are part of the system we may not be that interested in embracing. I think that more women in the film business will look slightly different than it’s looked in the past for men.”

Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot (July 15) was met by a backlash from some corners of the Internet that took offense to a new, female-led version starring four of the funniest comedic performers around: Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. With that lineup, Feig relishes heading into “the big guns of summer.”

images - wigout - 051916 - Ghostbusters“To put out a movie like this in the heart of tentpole season when it’s all these big movies out there, I find it very exciting because a lot of these movies are very male-driven, even though they have some great female characters in them,” Feig says. “But to have this be about four incredibly funny people who just happen to be women, I think that’s really exciting.”

This summer includes a number of anticipated sequels (Finding Dory, Star Trek Beyond, Alice Through the Looking Glass), the expected superhero films (Civil War, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse) and some less likely resurrections (The Legend of Tarzan, Ben-Hur, Independence Day: Resurgence).

Recent history is clear: These will be among the summer’s biggest hits. Last summer (the second biggest ever with nearly $4.5 billion in box office), seven of the top 10 movies were remakes, sequels or came from a comic book. Ditto for four of the top five movies so far in 2016.

images - wigout - 051916 - PopstarAndy Samberg and his Lonely Island trio will be among the few to brave the sequel-strewn seas with something fresh: their celebrity flame-out parody Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (June 3). Does he take any pride in being one of the few to push an original movie into summer?

“Um, yeah, we’ll find out,” says Samberg, laughing. “It’s heavy duty. We were looking at the schedule and we were like: ‘Holy crap. There’s stuff that’s coming out the week before and the week during us and the week after us, and they’re all really big movies.’ (Producer Judd Apatow) and the studio felt really strongly about summer and that we had something we could put there.”

One of the fathers of the summer movie season, Steven Spielberg, will also be in the mix with The BFG (July 1), his Roald Dahl adaptation that re-teams the director with Mark Rylance. The recent Oscar-winner plays the titular giant in a motion capture performance.

images - wigout - 051916 - BFG“The exciting thing about The BFG is the combination of Roald Dahl, who’s just a superb storyteller, with Steven and (late screenwriter) Melissa Mathison,” says Rylance. “It took five years to get made because of course initially many studios said: ‘Giants eating kids? I don’t think so!’ That edge of Roald Dahl, that frightening edge, I hope is still in there. There’s a kind of marvelous, frightening aspect to the fantasy as there is in the Tolkien books or the Grimm fairy tales that children can handle.”

Family audiences will be especially sought after by the likes of The Secret Life of Pets, Ice Age: Collision Course and the remake of Pete’s Dragon. One much smaller film, Life, Animated (July 8), will hope to sway moviegoers from the blockbusters while simultaneously reminding them of the power of movies.

The documentary, directed by Roger Ross Williams, is about an autistic young man, Owen Suskind, who found language through his love of Disney animated classics.

“It’s rare that you create a film like this that generations can enjoy together,” says Williams. “In the summer this is an alternative where families can go together and see it and hopefully be inspired and uplifted.”

To be uplifted rather than pummeled at summer movie theaters would indeed be an almost radical change of pace.