The film premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles on June 8, 2016, and was released in the United States on June 17, 2016. Upon release, the film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $1 billion worldwide, becoming the second Pixar film to cross this mark after 2010's Toy Story 3 and making it the third highest-grossing film of 2016 and the 25th highest-grossing of all-time. The film set numerous records, including the highest-grossing animated film opening of all time in North America.
Dory, a regal blue tang, gets separated from her parents as a child. As she grows up, Dory attempts to search for them, but gradually forgets them due to her short-term memory loss. In the flashback of the previous film, Finding Nemo, she joins Marlin – a clownfish looking for his missing son Nemo – after accidentally swimming into him.
One year later, Dory is living with Marlin and Nemo on their reef. One day, Dory has a flashback and remembers that she has parents. She decides to look for them, but her memory problem is an obstacle. She eventually remembers that they lived at the Jewel of Morro Bay across the ocean in California.
Marlin and Nemo accompany Dory. With the help of Crush, a sea turtle friend, they ride a water current to California. Upon arrival, Dory accidentally awakens a squid, who immediately pursues them and almost devours Nemo. Marlin berates Dory for endangering them. Her feelings hurt, Dory travels to the surface to seek help and is captured by staff members from the nearby Marine Life Institute after getting entangled in six pack rings.
Dory is placed in the quarantine section and tagged. There she meets a grouchy but well-meaning octopus named Hank. Dory's tag shows that she will be sent to an aquarium in Cleveland. Due to a traumatic ocean life, Hank wants to live in the aquarium instead of being released back into the ocean, so he agrees to help Dory find her parents in exchange for her tag. In one exhibit, Dory encounters her childhood friend Destiny, a nearsighted whale shark who used to communicate with Dory through pipes, and Bailey, a beluga whale who mistakenly believes he has lost his ability to echolocate. Dory subsequently has flashbacks of life with her parents and struggles to recall details. She finally remembers how she was separated from her parents: she overheard her mother crying one night, left to retrieve a shell to cheer her up, and was pulled away by an undertow current.
Marlin and Nemo attempt to rescue Dory. With the help of two sea lions named Fluke and Rudder and a disfigured common loon named Becky, they manage to get into the institute and find her in the pipe system. Other blue tangs tell them that Dory's parents escaped from the institute a long time ago to search for her and never came back, leaving Dory believing that they have died. Hank retrieves Dory from the tank, accidentally leaving Marlin and Nemo behind. He is then apprehended by one of the employees and unintentionally drops Dory into the drain, flushing her out to the ocean. While wandering aimlessly, she comes across a trail of shells; remembering that when she was young, her parents had set out a similar trail to help her find her way back home, she follows it. At the end of the trail, Dory finds an empty home with multiple shell trails leading to it. As she turns to leave, she sees her parents Jenny and Charlie in the distance. They tell her they spent years laying down the trails for her to follow in the hopes that she would eventually find them.
Marlin, Nemo, and Hank end up in the truck taking various aquatic creatures to Cleveland. Destiny and Bailey escape from their exhibit to help Dory rescue them. Once on board the truck, Dory persuades Hank to return to the sea with her, and together, they hijack the truck and drive it over busy highways, creating havoc, before crashing it into the ocean, freeing all the fish. Dory, along with her parents and new friends, return to the reef with Marlin and Nemo.
In a post-credits scene, the Tank Gang from Finding Nemo, still trapped inside their (now algae-covered) plastic bags, reach California one year after floating across the Pacific Ocean, where they are eventually picked up by staff members from the Marine Life Institute.
Prior to work on Finding Dory, Disney had planned to make a Finding Nemo sequel without Pixar's involvement, through Circle 7 Animation, a studio Disney announced in 2005 with the intention to make sequels to Pixar properties. However, due to the 2006 acquisition of Pixar by Disney, Circle 7 was shut down by Disney without ever having produced a film.
In July 2012, it was reported that Andrew Stanton was developing a sequel to Finding Nemo, with Victoria Strouse writing the script and a release date scheduled for 2016. However, the same day the news of a potential sequel broke, Stanton posted a message on his personal Twitter calling into question the accuracy of these reports. The message said, "Didn't you all learn from Chicken Little? Everyone calm down. Don't believe everything you read. Nothing to see here now. #skyisnotfalling." According to a report by The Hollywood Reporter published in August 2012, Ellen DeGeneres was in negotiations to reprise her role of Dory. In September 2012, it was confirmed by Stanton, saying: "What was immediately on the list was writing a second Carter movie. When that went away, everything slid up. I know I'll be accused by more sarcastic people that it's a reaction to Carter not doing well, but only in its timing, but not in its conceit." In February 2013, it was confirmed by the press that Albert Brooks would reprise the role of Marlin in the sequel.
In April 2013, Disney announced the sequel, Finding Dory, for November 25, 2015, confirming that DeGeneres and Brooks would be reprising their roles as Dory and Marlin, respectively. Following a long campaign for a sequel on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, DeGeneres stated:
I have waited for this day for a long, long, long, long, long, long time. I'm not mad it took this long. I know the people at Pixar were busy creating Toy Story 16. But the time they took was worth it. The script is fantastic. And it has everything I loved about the first one: It's got a lot of heart, it's really funny, and the best part is—it's got a lot more Dory.
In a July 2013 interview with Los Angeles Times, Stanton spoke of the sequel's origin: "There was polite inquiry from Disney [about a Finding Nemo sequel]. I was always 'No sequels, no sequels.' But I had to get on board from a VP standpoint. [Sequels] are part of the necessity of our staying afloat, but we don't want to have to go there for those reasons. We want to go there creatively, so we said [to Disney], 'Can you give us the timeline about when we release them? Because we'd like to release something we actually want to make, and we might not come up with it the year you want it.'"
In a 2016 interview Stanton stated how the film's story came to be; "I don't watch my films that often after they're done because I have to watch them so many times before they come out. So about 2010 when we were getting Finding Nemo ready for the 10-year re-release in 3D, it was interesting to watch again after all that time. Something kind of got lodged in the back of my brain and started to sort of stew. I started to think about how easily Dory could get lost and not find Marlin and Nemo again. She basically was in the same state that she was when Marlin found her. I didn't know where she was from. I knew that she had spent most of her youth wandering the ocean alone, and I wanted to know that she could find her new family, if she ever got lost again. It's almost like the parental side of me was worried." Stanton additionally stated: "I knew if I ever said Finding Dory or mentioned a sequel to Finding Nemo out loud, I’d be done, [T]here would be no way I'd be able to put that horse back in the barn. So I kept it very quiet until I knew I had a story that I thought would hold, and that was in early 2012. So I pitched it to John Lasseter and he was all into it. Then I got a writer, and once we had a treatment that we kind of liked, I felt comfortable calling Ellen."
Stanton selected Victoria Strouse to write the screenplay. She later said, "It was always collaborative with Andrew, but really the screenwriting was me. Of course, Andrew would do passes, and he and I would brainstorm a lot together and then we would bring it to the group of story artists. People would weigh in and share ideas." She pointed to Dory's forgetfulness as a challenge when writing the script, adding, "You don't realize until you sit down to write a character who can't remember things how integral memory is to absolutely everything we do, and that's what creates a narrative that people can follow. When a main character can't self-reflect and can't tell a story, that character is very difficult to design because she can't really lead. To get her to be able to lead and to get an audience to be able to trust her was the hardest thing to do."
The fictional Marine Life Institute depicted extensively in the film is based on the production team's research trips to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Marine Mammal Center and the Vancouver Aquarium.
The film's ending was revised after Pixar executives viewed Blackfish, a 2013 documentary film which focuses on the dangers of keeping orca whales in captivity. Initially, some of the characters were to end up in a SeaWorld-like marine park, but the revision gave them an option to leave. On September 18, 2013, it was announced that the film would be pushed back to a June 17, 2016, release. Pixar's The Good Dinosaur was moved to the November 25, 2015, release window to allow more time for production of the film.
Angus MacLane was one of the first people to whom Stanton revealed his idea for the sequel. Together, with Bob Peterson, they discussed about different ideas for places Dory would visit during her journey—one of those ideas was the touch pool sequence. Later, during the Brave (2012) wrap party, Stanton invited Angus to join him in his first co-directing duty. Stanton described Angus' role as a "jack of all trades," particularly utilising his experience in animation and story, as well as in production, having created a few short films himself.
In August 2015, at Disney's D23 Expo, it was announced that Hayden Rolence would voice Nemo, replacing Alexander Gould from the first film, whose voice has deepened since reaching adulthood (Gould voiced a minor character in the sequel instead). In addition to Rolence, Ed O'Neill was revealed to be the voice of Hank.
To make the light more realistic, RenderMan was completely re-engineered, its biggest change in 25 years.
The film's soundtrack entitled Finding Dory was composed by Thomas Newman and released on June 17, 2016. Louis Armstrong's version of "What a Wonderful World" is played during the scene in which fish are released into the ocean as the truck Dory and Hank are driving crashes into the water. On May 20, 2016, Sia performed a cover of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show following an announcement that it would be featured in the film.
Finding Dory premiered at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles on June 8, 2016, and was theatrically released in the United States on June 17, 2016, in 2D, Disney Digital 3-D and RealD 3D. It was also released to select IMAX 3D theaters. In April 2016, it was announced that a new Pixar short, Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro and with music by Adrian Belew, would be shown in front of the film. It had its UK premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 18, 2016.
The film was re-released for Labor Day weekend in 2016.
Finding Dory was released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment on Blu-ray (2D and 3D) and DVD in the United States on November 15, 2016, with a digital release on October 25. In addition to Piper, the bonus features also included a short film, titled Marine Life Interviews, featuring interviews with the inhabitants of the Marine Life Institute about their encounters with Dory.
Finding Dory grossed $486.3 million in the U.S. and Canada and $542.3 million in other countries for a worldwide total of $1.029 billion, against a budget of $200 million. It had a worldwide opening of $185.7 million, which is the second biggest of all time for an animated film behind Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs ($218.4 million), and an IMAX global opening of $6.4 million. On August 16, it became the fourth film of 2016 to earn $900 million in ticket sales, and on October 9—its seventeenth weekend—it passed the $1 billion threshold, becoming the third film of 2016 after Captain America: Civil War and Zootopia to reach that mark, the second Pixar film (after Toy Story 3), the fifth animated film (after Toy Story 3, Frozen, Minions, and Zootopia), the twelfth Disney film (fourth Disney animated film), and the twenty-seventh film overall in cinematic history.
Worldwide, it is the third highest-grossing film of 2016 (behind Civil War and Rogue One), the highest-grossing animated film of 2016, the second highest-grossing Pixar film ever (behind Toy Story 3), the fourth highest-grossing animated film of all time, and the 25th highest-grossing film of all time. Deadline.com calculated the net profit of the film to be $296.6 million, when factoring together all expenses and revenues for the film, making it the 4th most profitable release of 2016.
In the United States and Canada, Finding Dory opened on June 17, 2016, alongside Central Intelligence, with projections having the film grossing $110–120 million in its opening weekend, with some estimates going as high as $130 million. It received the widest release for a Pixar film (4,305 theaters, breaking Brave's record), of which 3,200 venues were in 3D, along with 425 premium large format locales, approximately 100 IMAX theaters and a handful of Dolby Cinema sites. It was Fandango's top pre-selling animated film of all time, outselling the previous record-holder, Minions. The film grossed $9.2 million from Thursday night previews, a record for both Pixar and any animated film, and $54.7 million on its opening day, marking both the biggest opening day and single-day for an animated film. This also marks the first time that an animated film has grossed over $50 million in a single day. It went on to gross $135.1 million in its opening weekend, finishing first at the box office and setting the record for the highest opening weekend for both Pixar (breaking Toy Story 3's record) and any animated film (breaking Shrek the Third's record), and became the third biggest adjusted for inflation. It is also the third highest opening (excluding Marvel and Star Wars films) for Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures behind Beauty and the Beast ($174.8 million) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($135.6 million), and is the studio's ninth biggest debut overall. It also became the fifth animated film and the fifth film of 2016 to open above $100 million. Morever, its opening also marked the second biggest for the month of June, behind only Jurassic World. Its opening was 93.8% above Finding Nemo's $70.3 million debut. It further broke the record for the biggest PLF and Cinemark XD opening for an animated film with $10.4 million and $2.6 million, respectively. In IMAX, it made $5 million from 211 theaters, the third best animated IMAX opening behind Zootopia ($5.2 million) and Toy Story 3 ($8.4 million).
Following its record-breaking openings, it scored the biggest Monday for Pixar by grossing $19.6 million (breaking Toy Story 3's $15.6 million) and the best Monday in June for an animated film. However, among all animated films, it is ranked second — behind 2004's Shrek 2, which made $23.4 million on its first Monday, and it is also the biggest Tuesday for an animated film with $23.2 million, besting Minions' $16.8 million. It jumped 18.5% over its Monday gross, a rare achievement for a film. It crossed the $200 million mark in its first seven days, becoming the first (and fastest) animated film to pass the said milestone in just a week. It fell only 46% in its second weekend earning $73 million to record the biggest second weekend for an animated film (breaking Shrek 2's $72.2 million previous record), the biggest for Disney and 2016 (surpassing Captain America: Civil War's $72.6 million), and the eighth biggest second weekend gross of all time overall. This was despite facing stiff competition from newcomer Independence Day: Resurgence. It crossed $300 million in 12 days — a new record for an animated film, surpassing the previous record held by Shrek 2 and Toy Story 3 (both of which took 18 days), and became the second animated film of 2016 (after Zootopia), the fourth Disney film of 2016, and the sixth overall film of the year to cross the milestone. It continued to dominate the box office for the third straight weekend, despite competitions from three new wide releases—The Legend of Tarzan, The Purge: Election Year, and fellow Disney release The BFG—after witnessing a 42% decline to $41.8 million in three days and $51.4 million in four days, respectively, during the Independence Day holiday frame. This made it the second time in two years and just the third time since 1992, the July 4 holiday box office was topped by a film in its third weekend of release. It broke another record as it passed the $400 million mark in 21 days, which is the fastest for an animated film, the fastest of 2016, the fastest for the studio, and the fifth fastest of all time overall. Morever, it became the second film of 2016 (after Captain America: Civil War), the fifth animated film, the ninth film for the studio, and the twenty-fourth film overall to pass the milestone. On the following day (July 8), it surpassed Civil War to become the biggest film of the year up until Rogue One took that title in January 2017. It dropped out of the top ten in its eighth week.
Although the film was finally overtaken by The Secret Life of Pets (and The Legend of Tarzan in second place) in its fourth weekend, it nevertheless passed The Lion King to become the highest-grossing Disney animated film of all time in the same weekend, surpassing the latter which held the record for 15 non-consecutive years. In just 30 days, it overtook Shrek 2 ($441.2 million) to become the highest-grossing animated film of all time, breaking the latter's record of 12 years. Four days later, on July 20, it became the first ever animated film in cinematic history to cross the $450 million mark. As with its predecessor Finding Nemo, the studio expanded the theater count for the film during the Labor Day weekend from 345 theaters to 2,075 theaters, an addition of 1,730 theaters. In 2003, Nemo was expanded from 838 sites to 1,053 locations.
It became the second highest-grossing film of 2016 (behind Rogue One), the highest-grossing Pixar film, the second highest-grossing Walt Disney Pictures release (behind Beauty and the Beast), the highest-grossing Disney animated film, the highest-grossing animated film overall, and the ninth highest-grossing film of all time.
Internationally, Finding Dory received a staggered release in a span of four months from June to September, with Germany being the last country. This was done in order take advantage of key holidays and competitive dates around the world. It was released across 29 countries—which is 32% of its entire international release territories—the same weekend as its U.S. premiere. It made an estimated $50.7 million to take the No. 1 spot at the international box office. In its second weekend, it added $38.7 million from 37 markets, falling in third place behind Independence Day: Resurgence and Now You See Me 2. In the same weekend along with its $73 million take in North America, the film helped Pixar cross the $10 billion mark worldwide since Toy Story (1995). By its fourth weekend, the animated film helped Disney push past the $3 billion mark internationally and $5 billion globally.
It had the biggest opening for an animated film in Brazil ($7.1 million) and the Netherlands ($2.1 million), and the biggest of all time for a Disney animated or Pixar film in Australia ($7.7 million), the Philippines ($2.1 million), Singapore ($1.3 million), India ($1 million), Indonesia, Peru and Central America, and in Russia it opened with $3.2 million, and the second biggest in the United Kingdom and Ireland ($10.7 million), Mexico ($9.4 million) and Argentina ($3.5 million), and that's despite amidst the latter country's Copa America soccer match, and Colombia ($2.1 million), behind Monsters University. In the UK and Ireland, the film recorded the second biggest animated opening of the year with £8.1 million ($10.7 million) from 580 theaters, behind only The Secret Life of Pets. However, if previews are excluded, Finding Dory is ahead. Moreover, it also posted the second biggest Disney/Pixar opening, behind only Toy Story 3 (fourth biggest if previews are included), and the seventh biggest animated opening of all time overall based on pure Friday-to-Sunday gross alone. It added an additional 43 theaters in its second weekend, after which it added another £3.98 million ($5.1 million) at the weekend, thereby passing the £20 million mark in just 10 days (among Pixar films, only Toy Story 3 reached £20 million faster). It made an impressive £8.15 million during weekdays, from Monday to Thursday resulting in a £2.03 million daily average gross. According to The Guardian, this was because of the school holidays that prevailed on the weekdays. Otherwise, family films earn the vast majority of their takings on Saturday and Sunday, and showtimes typically reduce on weekdays. It returned to the top of the box office in its fourth weekend and went on to become the highest-grossing film of the summer that year. In Brazil, in addition to recording the biggest Disney/Pixar opening ever, almost twice the previous record held by The Good Dinosaur, it also set a new record for an all-time animated opening, on par with Minions in local currency. In South Korea, it had the biggest opening for a Pixar film with $7.1 million, which is also the second biggest for a Disney animated film, behind Frozen. In Japan, the film had a two-day weekend opening of $7 million on Saturday and Sunday from 511 screens on 571,000 admissions. For the entire three-day holiday weekend, including Marine Day on Monday July 18, the film earned $11 million on 922,000 admissions. This made it the top western release of the weekend and the biggest foreign opening weekend in the country of that year. It had further number-one openings in Spain ($4.9 million), France ($4.7 million), Hong Kong ($1.9 million; $2.8 million including previews), Taiwan ($1.9 million), Sweden, Norway and Denmark. It topped the box office in the Netherlands for three and in Spain and Australia for four consecutive weekends. In Italy, it scored the biggest animated opening of the year with $5.8 million.
In China, where Pixar films have been struggling to find broad audiences and accrue lucrative revenues, the film was projected to make around $30 million in its opening weekend. The film ended up grossing $17.7 million—the highest Pixar opening in the country's history—debuting in second place behind Warcraft. It surpassed Monsters University in just seven days to become the biggest Pixar film there with $38.1 million. It opened in Germany—its last market—on September 29, where the film delivered a robust opening of $8.4 million, the biggest for any film of 2016 in the country. The film continued to benefit from German Unity Day on October 3. It went on to top the box office there for three straight weekends, tying with Inferno in its third weekend.
It is now the highest-grossing Disney animated or Pixar film in Australia (where it is also the second highest-grossing animated film of all time behind Shrek 2), Bolivia, Brazil, Central America, Colombia, India, Indonesia, New Zealand, Peru, the Philippines, and Trinidad. It also became the second highest-grossing Pixar release of all time in South Korea behind Inside Out. Elsewhere, the biggest markets in terms of total earnings were Japan ($66 million), followed by the UK ($56.3 million), China ($38.1 million), Australia ($36.3 million), and Brazil ($34.5 million).
Finding Dory received critical acclaim from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 284 reviews and an average rating of 7.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Funny, poignant, and thought-provoking, Finding Dory delivers a beautifully animated adventure that adds another entertaining chapter to its predecessor's classic story." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 77 out of 100, based on 48 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Mike Ryan of Uproxx gave the film a positive review, saying: "I never thought I wanted a sequel to Finding Nemo, but here we are and I'm pretty happy it exists. And, for me, it was a more emotional experience than the first film. Finding Dory got me – it made me cry." A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that while the film lacks "dazzling originality," he overall wrote, "it more than makes up for in warmth, charm and good humor." In his review for Variety, Owen Gleiberman wrote, "It's a film that spills over with laughs (most of them good, a few of them shticky) and tears (all of them earned), supporting characters who are meant to slay us (and mostly do) with their irascible sharp tongues, and dizzyingly extended flights of physical comedy." Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal said that "Finding Dory can be touching, sweet and tender, but it's compulsively, preposterously and steadfastly funny." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and said that the film "brims with humor, heart and animation miracles," despite lacking "the fresh surprise of its predecessor."
Conservationists warned that, very much like Finding Nemo, the film could lead to uninformed customers buying blue tangs for home aquariums. Blue tangs cannot be bred in captivity and have to be caught in the wild. They are related to surgeonfish and exhibit razor-sharp spines on both sides of the tail that can inflict formidable wounds.
While promoting the film, actress Ellen DeGeneres reminded audiences that Nemo and Dory’s real-life home, the Great Barrier Reef, is under enormous threat, mostly due to coral bleaching, a process induced by climate change, which has killed coral reefs on an enormous scale.
In June 2016, director Andrew Stanton talked about the possibility of a sequel, saying that he would never exclude it because of the introduction of new characters, citing the Toy Story films as guides for how to expand a world through sequels.