When I first saw a trailer for Disney Pixar’s Onward, admittedly I didn’t know what I was watching. How was this going to relate to me? Then I heard the moving and emotional story behind the making of Onward from Director Dan Scanlon and Producer Kori Rae, and it all came together. The idea behind Onward, the Pixar movie starring Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, came from a very personal story.
What is Pixar Onward About?
Onward is the story of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, who lost their father. Ian never met him since he died before he was born. Lacking confidence, Ian heard stories about his father and knows that he would be more outgoing and secure if he only had his father’s guidance.
“He’s a little shy and awkward,” says Scanlon. “And we paired him with a wild and chaotic big brother, Barley, who is constantly causing problems for Ian.”
On Ian’s 16th birthday, his mom gives them both a letter and gift from their father. “Dad left a letter for both of them along with a mysterious spell, staff and a special gem that will give them one day with him,” says Scanlon. “When Dad got sick, he wanted to find a way he could see how his sons grew up.”
After inadvertently destroying the gem, the brothers go on a quest to find another in order to complete the spell to bring back their father for one day. And in the process they accidentally conjured up only half of dad – his legs!
“Barley has spent his life studying how quests work, but Ian is the one capable of doing magic,” says Rae. “They realize that they need each other.”
The Story Behind Pixar’s Onward
Where did the story behind Onward come from?
“The story is inspired by my own relationship with my brother and our connection with our dad who passed away when I was about a year old,” says director Dan Scanlon. That was the jumping-off point. We’ve all lost someone, and if we could spend one more day with them — what an exciting opportunity that would be. We knew that if we wanted to tell that story that we’d have to set the movie in a world where you could have that incredible opportunity.”
They had home movies, but they had no audio. Scanlon’s father was always a mystery to them. A family member found a cassette tape.
Scanlon said, “A family member sent us a tape recording of him saying just two words: ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ Two words. But to my brother and me — it was magic.”
That’s where Disney and Pixar excel.
According to Rae, “It’s a modern suburban fantasy film — a new genre for Pixar.”
So in comes the fantasy element. In Onward’s world there are elves, cyclops, centaurs, gnomes, sprites, trolls, and more. But magic was disappearing. That was the way of old.
“Only certain people could do it,” says Rae. “It was difficult, and you had to really practice. As technology was introduced, everyone found easier ways to do things. Magic is possible, it’s just that nobody really does it anymore.”
So many teams come in to create the final product of magic that you see onscreen. Between pitching ideas and making them come alive to the animation, you wouldn’t believe the amount of work that goes into creating a scene. And the ideas that get thrown out!
We had a mini drawing session of Barley, and mine was short of horrendous. Poor Barley. I have so much respect for story tellers and story makers at Pixar Studios.
So grab your tissues. There’s so much heart behind Onward.
“We’ve all lost someone, and if we could spend one more day with them — what an exciting opportunity that would be.” -Dan Scanlon
Again, this is where it all began. We have all lost someone, and what would we give to have a day or a moment with that someone? Is is a family member, a friend, a colleague, a mentor? I’m willing to bet we would all take the journey if given that opportunity.
Coco is my favorite Disney Pixar movie, and I have a feeling Onward will make me feel that same connection to loved ones.
Onward is in theaters March 6, 2020!