Disney and Pixar’s new movie Onward may have magical creatures, grand adventures, and a sentient pair of pants, but like any Pixar classic, it’s also full of heart. Onward tells the story of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), who were raised by single mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) after their father passed away when they were young. The brothers discover that their father left behind a wizard staff and a spell that could bring him back for a day. But magic isn’t as easy as it looks, so when they are only able to resurrect half of their father — and yes, we mean that literally — Ian and Barley must team up for an epic quest to meet the rest of their dad before time runs out. We recently sat down with director Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland to dig a little deeper into what made Onward a truly magical experience for everyone involved.
Though Onward is Pixar’s first foray into the traditional fantasy genre, it may be one of the most personal stories to come from the studio as it was directly inspired by Dan Scanlon’s real life. His own father passed away when Dan was a year old and his brother was three, so the two always wondered what he was like. “That question became the seed of Onward, which was, ‘What if you could meet him? What if you could have one day? What would you learn? What would you ask?’ And then we added elves and sprites to that incredibly sad story,” Dan shared with a laugh.
While the movie is definitely emotional (both Dan and Kori admitted to crying at various stages of the filmmaking process), what really won over people at Pixar was the human relatability at the movie’s core. Early on, Kori Rae’s way in was her relationship with her sister. “I would talk about my relationship with her and how she supported me and what she did for me. And as we had filmmakers come on, everybody started telling their stories, and what was amazing was that while it’s a personal story, it’s also got so many universal elements to it that I think will resonate with the whole world.”
The connection to a sibling became an important element for the two brothers in the movie. Even though in real life he is an older brother, Tom Holland felt an immediate kinship to his character, younger brother Ian. He described himself in his early teens as a “nervous kid [who] had a hard time at school,” but his experience joining the cast of the Broadway musical Billy Elliot brought him out of his shell. He explained, “It wasn’t until I went on [that] adventure [that] I became more confident in myself and I believed in myself. And what drew me to this character is that we get to see that entire journey that I went on as a kid in him throughout this film.”
As for the real-life family who helped inspire the movie, we asked Dan Scanlon what it’s been like to share Onward with them. He enthused, “I kind of made [the movie] for [my brother]... I showed [it to] him two weeks ago, and he loved it. He was blown away. He gave me the longest hug, and we talked for hours about it after, and he’s been texting me about it.” Dan and his brother are also excited and nervous to share Onward with their mother. “It’s her experience too in some ways, in losing her husband and raising these two kids alone. I mean, in a lot of ways, I think it’s more her story in terms of the drama of it. She’s one of the funniest people I know and one of the best storytellers.”
For a celebration of love and family you’ll want to share with more people than just your siblings, join us for the heartwarming journey of Disney and Pixar’s Onward, in theaters now!