As a solid demonstration that art sometimes does, indeed, imitate life, the makers of the upcoming sequel in the Finding Nemo franchise have rewritten the ending of the screenplay, which originally had all the sea creatures winding up at a marine-based theme park, such as SeaWorld.
According to news reports, it was the controversial new documentary Blackfish, which excoriates SeaWorld for its captive orca program, that convinced the film’s writers and producers to change course.
The sequel, Finding Dory, comes on the heels of the 2003 box office hit Finding Nemo, and is being made by Disney’s animation studio, Pixar. According to the Los Angeles Times, Pixar executives attended a private screening of Blackfish last April, with the film’s director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite.
According to the Times: “Louie Psihoyos, who directed the Oscar-winning dolphin slaughter documentary ‘The Cove,’ Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter and ‘Dory’ director Andrew Stanton sat down with ‘Blackfish’ director Gabriela Cowperthwaite in April after seeing her movie.”
After watching the film, which “raises sharp questions about the health of whales in captivity,” the Times reported, “the studio decided to make substantial changes to the Dory script.
Psihoyos told the paper that, in the early script, a number of marine mammals are dispatched to an “aquatic park/rehab facility—a SeaWorld-type environment.” The script has been altered so that the animals “now have the choice to leave that marine park,” he said. “They told Gabriela they didn’t want to look back on this film in 50 years and have it be their ‘Song of the South,’ ” the 1946 Disney musical widely considered to be racist.
Pixar has declined comment, but Cowperthwaite acknowledged the screening, and said, “These are obviously people who are dedicated to researching every topic they cover. Whether Blackfish affects their creative decisions, I can’t say.”
Members of the Blackfish cast were astonished by the power of an independent documentary to affect the creative plans of such a major studio.
“It’s huge and stunning that the Pixar team was moved to alter the ending of the Nemo sequel after viewing Blackfish,” says Jeffrey Ventre, a former trainer at SeaWorld Orlando who is featured in the documentary, and profiled in the 2012 book Death at SeaWorld.” “Movies like Finding Nemo are timeless, in terms of shelf life, so this is evidence of a cultural attitude shift.”
Samantha Berg, another former trainer who also appears in the documentary and book, is equally impressed.
“The reference to Song of the South in the article is illuminating,” she notes. “This draws a parallel between the exploitation of orcas in the entertainment industry and our tragic history of human abuse and slavery. I think someday we’ll look back on marine circuses like SeaWorld and see them as no different than the Coliseum. I’m glad Pixar recognized that highly social, intelligent beings who live human equivalent lifespans and travel 80 to 100 miles per day should not be kept in woefully inadequate facilities purely for human entertainment and profit. I applaud Pixar for choosing not to glorify orca captivity in cartoon form.”
There has been no comment from the captive marine mammal display industry, and none are expected. But one has to wonder what the top brass are thinking right now at places like Pixar’s parent company, Disney, which holds captive dolphins at Epcot Center, and of course, at SeaWorld. After all, SeaWorld executives are stewards of a huge entertainment conglomerate, one that relies on the goodwill and respect of the public in order to keep turnstiles spinning and stockholders happy.
Which begs the question, if Pixar executives don’t want to be looked back upon with shame and scorn 50 years from now for celebrating captivity (What a happy ending!), then what is going on inside the minds of people who make money from using intelligent, sentient animals—real ones, not cartoons—as a form of human entertainment?