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Sometimes the best way to extend a story or, to use the modern parlance, expand a universe is to take the focus off the main characters from the first entry and retrain it on a side or supporting character. I’m not saying it’s a tactic that’s widely used – in fact the only real example in the film world I can come up with is Evan Almighty, which took Steve Carell’s character from Bruce Almighty and made him the lead – but it’s out there. This feels like something that’s more widely used in novels, though again the only example I can think of is Tom Clancy making John Clark the star of his own series of stories instead of stalwart Jack Ryan.

Regardless, the Evan Almighty approach is what’s being taken with Finding Dory, the new movie from Pixar. Picking up from the story told in 2003’s Finding Nemo, this story focuses on Dory, the blue tang voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. The often-forgetful Dory suddenly remembers that she too once had a family and sets out to find them, wherever they might be. Along the way she gets some help from Nemo and his dad (the latter again voiced by the great Albert Brooks) as well as a whole new cast of characters she encounters on her journeys, a trip that’s made all the more difficult because Dory, of course, keeps forgetting what she’s supposed to be doing.

The Posters

Minimalism is the order of the day on the first poster. It’s just an undersea shot, with Dory’s rear fin visible on the right as she swims out of frame, trailed by the “She just kept swimming…” copy, which harkens back to a line from the first movie. The title treatment, which is cribbed from the first film as well, and the promise that it’s coming in 2016 are at the bottom. It hits the “effective awareness building” mark so well done here. A motion poster version was released that basically animates the teaser, showing an undersea scene that Dory is kind of aimlessly swimming around the edges of.

Four fun one-sheets were released later on that hid Dory in various underwater scenes. It’s a nice play on the film’s title as well as the character’s propensity for getting confused easily. They’re also bright and colorful and very on-brand in that regard.

Most all of what you need to know about the movie’s story and setting can be found on the theatrical one-sheet. Dory is shown in the middle of the image but is surrounded by all kinds of sea life and many of the supporting characters – including two very familiar clown fish – that are all swimming around her. The look on Dory’s face is one of confused bewilderment. It’s filled with the same bright and colorful look from the first movie, promising the audience that this is very much a return to familiar territory, albeit with a new focus. The copy here promises “An unforgettable journey she probably won’t remember,” which is nicely phrased.

The Trailers

The first trailer – which debuted on the YouTube channel of DeGeneres’ show – is pretty cute. It starts out by setting up that Dory is now staying with Nemo and his dad, but is prone to sleep-swimming. Turns out she remembers something, which shocks her. After some fun back-and-forth it turns out she’s missing her family and so sets out to go find them.

It’s a cute trailer that doesn’t trade too deeply on the nostalgia we have for the first movie and effectively sets up the broad outline of the plot for this story.

The next trailer, which got teased a week in advance and which also debuted during DeGeneres’ show, starts out with Dory joining a school class on a field trip. Soon something jogs her memory and she remembers she has a family that she’s missing. So she gets her friends from the first movie and she’s off on an adventure that involves her getting caught in all kinds of circumstances and situations.

There’s not a whole lot of substance to the trailer but it’s still pretty fun. It’s more about selling the overall look and feel of the movie, specifically DeGeneres’ performance, than anything else and on that front it performs pretty well.

The next trailer starts out with Dory as a young fish who’s looking for her parents, something she says over and over again. We see her taken and delivered to an aquarium where she continues her quest with help of new friends. It’s all about that journey and showing a sense of wonder and imagination here.

There’s also a *lot* of Nemo and his dad in this trailer, almost as much as there is of Dory herself. It’s clear here that the study is selling the movie as a direct sequel to Finding Nemo, leaning hard on the audience’s affection for those characters and not very much on selling it as Dory’s solo adventure. Indeed based on this trailer it’s easy to assume that Nemo and his dad are with her every step of the way.

Online and Social

The official website is the usual offering these days from Disney. So it opens with some full-motion video at the top, this time showing Dory playing hide and seek with a beluga whale.

Scroll down the page and you can watch the trailer again if you like. After that there’s more video, including character introduction and information on “Speak Like a Whale Day,” which was last weekend.

There’s a brief – very brief, just a couple sentences – synopsis next. That’s followed by character bios for the fish we’re going to meet in the movie. More videos follow that include some more character introductions, educational snippets showing off the various fish in the movie and more.

finding dory pic 1

Activity packets, educator’s guides and tips on being a responsible fish owner can be downloaded in the next section, the latter likely an attempt to head off concerns Disney is encouraging irresponsible pet desires. That’s followed by a gallery of stills from the movie and the posters and other key art.

Finally, there’s a list of the movie’s promotional Partners.

The Facebook page for the movie included not just information about the movie like countdown images and trailers and other video but also generous helpings of promotions for the partner companies. Same goes on Twitter, though with more RTs of Ellen and other talent.

Advertising and Cross-Promotions

Plenty of TV spots like this one were run that, to varying degrees, included lots of footage from the trailers but with new scenes as well. They’re all funny and continue, as the trailers do, to sell this as almost equal parts Dory solo adventure and direct Finding Nemo sequel.

Lots of online advertising was done, including on social networks. And I’m sure the key art was used in a good amount of outdoor billboards and other ad types.

Promotional partners for the movie included:

  • GoGurt: Offered movie-branded packaging and ran at least one TV spot promoting both the movie and the fact that the tubes of yogurt had new jokes.
  • Coppertone: Offered movie-branded packaging that included the offer of a free movie promo code on select products.
  • Kellogg’s: Movie-branded cereal packages offered a movie lantern with the purchase of four boxes.
  • Pirate’s Booty: Movie-branded packaging.
  • Ice Chips: Movie-branded packaging promoted a sweepstakes offering a chance to win a trip to San Francisco and the aquarium there.
  • Bounty: Movie-branded packaging and prints on rolls of paper towels.
  • Band-Aid: Nothing specified on the site but I’m guessing there were movie-branded boxes offered.
  • Juicy Juice: Movie-branded packaging offered a chance to enter to win any of a selection of prizes in a sweepstakes.
  • Aussie Kids: Offered a variety of movie-branded packaging on their hair care products.
  • Nature’s Harvest: Movie branded packaging promoted a weekly contest awarding prizes as well as the chance to get a Dory Beanie Boo with select purchases.
  • Quaker Chewy: Movie-branded packaging offered discount movie tickets with select purchases.
  • Subway: Offered movie-themed kid’s meals toys.

Media and Publicity

Aside from the buzz garnered through the release of marketing material the first real publicity was the glimpse at a couple of supporting characters from the movie.

In a fun April Fool’s Day promotion, director Andrew Stanton had a little fun by unveiling Pixar’s biggest Easter Egg, which is that Hank the octopus has been hiding in all the studio’s movies to date but is now coming into the spotlight.

At a major press event a bit before release, Stanton talked about the journey the movie took to production, the problems inherent in the main character being one with short-term memory loss, how it does or doesn’t connect to the events of Finding Nemo and more. He also addressed the issue of this being a sequel and how that fits in with Pixar’s overall plans for film output and related topics.

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The movie got a bunch of coverage for this Mother’s Day-themed spot starring DeGeneres and Keaton.

Some uproar emerged as animal rights advocates and others began fretting that the movie would lead to a surge in people seeking out blue tang fish and clown fish from their natural habitats, eventually asking Disney to take efforts to protect those habitats.

Of course DeGeneres having her own hugely-popular talk show provided the movie with a constant publicity channel, both on TV and on social media. She and the cast did the regular press rounds as well, but you can’t miss having direct access to a syndicated talk show with the following hers does.

Overall

I’d have to be pretty cold-hearted to not be charmed by this campaign. It’s cute and adorable and sells the movie in a way that’s going to resonate well with the target audience, which is not only kids and their parents but really anyone who was a fan of the first movie. It hits all the notes it needs to, with a full-court press on lots of channels to make sure that everyone who’s even moderately paying attention knows it’s coming. And it presents itself as being funny, in addition to heartwarming, setting it apart from the recent The Good Dinosaur, which went all-in on emotion but not so much on the comedy, which was lacking from the movie itself as well.

If there’s one fault I can find with the campaign it’s that it plays up the Nemo angle pretty hard. And my concern is that the level to which it’s shown in the campaign isn’t representative of the movie as a whole, which could lead audiences to go in expecting lots more of Nemo and his dad but not get it. As usual, I don’t know what the reality is right now but there’s a palpable disparity between the desire to sell this as Dory’s story and the need to reassure audience that yes, Nemo is still around so don’t worry. If that character’s presence does wind up being out of proportion with his place in the marketing the movie will have to rely on whatever other charms it has to not be seen as disappointing by the audience.

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