‘Blackfish’ Documentary and SeaWorld’s Resulting PR War Inspire Pixar to Change ‘Finding Dory’ Storyline

Please note that this post contains possible spoilers for Pixar’s upcoming film “Finding Dory.”

As we reported a few weeks ago, Magnolia Pictures’ documentary “Blackfish,” which makes the case that orca whales in captivity suffer physical and mental distress, prompted SeaWorld Entertainment to launch a full-fledged PR campaign. Now, it seems, the publicity surrounding the film and the theme park has inspired Pixar to re-think the storyline for “Finding Dory“, its sequel to ‘Finding Nemo.”

“The script for Finding Dory, which is still in the early stages of production ahead of its planned 2015 release, initially had an ending that involved a marine park, according to a Pixar employee,” reports the New York Times. “But as a result of the sometimes harsh Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, and the resulting publicity battle SeaWorld has had to fight, Pixar decided to restructure that part of the story so that the fish and mammals taken to its aquatic center have the option to leave.”

So… it’s more like a fish hotel than an aquatic theme park? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

We do wonder, though — just as we did when SeaWorld launched its no-holds-barred PR battle before “Blackfish” was even released — if such a preemptive move was wholly necessary. However compelling their content may be, documentary films generally (though not always) draw a fairly small audience, so controversies stemming from revelations made by such movies are often fairly contained and short-lived. By fighting back so hard and so publicly against the film, SeaWorld’s campaign has, in a way, served to call more attention to “Blackfish” and the controversy surrounding it.

Along those lines, we wonder whether a movie to be released in far-off 2015 needed its plot tweaked — or if it did, whether those changes should have been announced publicly. There’s no way to predict whether, come 2015, moviegoers would have complained about the ending. However, thanks to the script changes being made public, we do know that people are complaining about it now. Many commenters on other articles reporting this story have said that if Pixar was going to make a change, it should have removed the aquatic park from the film all together, while others are annoyed that any changes were made at all.

In other words, it’s possible that two years down the line, few people would have made any connection between “Finding Dory” and “Blackfish”, but by trying to prevent future moviegoers from making such connections, Pixar made them for us.

Will any of this actually hurt the much-anticipated “Finding Dory”? Probably not. But when it comes to preemptive PR, how early is too early, and where is the line between preventing a potential problem and creating one?