The upcoming Pixar film Onward opens in theaters on March 6, 2020. Earlier today, we got a chance to attend the press conference for the film, which included Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, as well as director Dan Scanlan and producer Kori Rae.
In the film, when teenage elf brothers Barley and Ian Lightfoot (voices of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) get an unexpected opportunity to spend one more day with their late dad, they embark on an extraordinary quest aboard Barley’s epic van Guinevere.
Like any good quest, their journey is filled with magic spells, cryptic maps, impossible obstacles and unimaginable discoveries. But when the boys’ fearless mom Laurel (voice of Julia Louis-Dreyfus) realizes her sons are missing, she teams up with a part-lion, part-bat, part-scorpion, former warrior — aka The Manticore (voice of Octavia Spencer) — and heads off to find them.
Scanlan said that this is a personal film for him. He explained, “My father passed away when I was about a year old, and my brother was three. So as you can imagine we don’t remember him at all, but we always wondered who he was and how we were like him.”
Scanlan added that the original role of Ian, the younger brother, changed when they cast Tom Holland. Ian was originally more sarcastic, but, “Tom brought a sincerity to him and a vulnerability to him that was crucial in a way that I didn’t quite understand, that just naturally comes from him.”
He said that Barley changed as well, with the casting of Pratt. “Chris was very protective of Barley. Barley is kind of a goofball and a crazy character… we’d write scenes where Barley’s pants fall down, and he falls down the stairs.” He explained that Pratt would say, “‘He’s not an idiot, he’s a well-intentioned guy.'”
In fact, Pratt told the audience that he related to Barley. He said that, when Barley finds out that his little brother has the power of magic, he’s “never jealous.” He said that his own brother originally wanted to be an actor, and that when Pratt became successful, he was nothing but proud of his brother. He felt that Barley is the same way. “He loves his brother so much that he’s just so proud of him that he has this gift,” Pratt said.
Holland said that being part of Onward was the culmination of a dream. He said, “For every young actor, you set yourself goals, and, and I have mine that I’ve set up since I was a kid. They’re still the same today, and one of them was being in a Pixar movie.”
Holland also joked that Scanlan won’t let him see the film until the premiere, because he might spoil something.
Scanlan spoke about setting this story in a fantasy land. He said, “we needed a way in which this father could come back to life, and that was really the reason behind the magic. We could have done a version where, and even considered one, where the boys were scientists to build a machine that brought that him back, and magic just felt more romanticized…” He said that this is sort of a modern version of a fantasy land, and that he didn’t want the boys to be in “robes, and their father in robes,” saying it would be “ridiculous.”
He also said they just “really wanted to show dirty unicorns.” In the film, magic has disappeared from the land, and the unicorns… well, they’ve sort of become raccoons, rummaging through trash.
Holland and Pratt got to do something rather unusual in an animated film. They got to spend some of their recording time together in a booth (see in the video below!). “I think maybe part of that had to do with just getting a model of what our relationship would be like the, you know, how we interact with one another and goof around…it’s not the most conducive to creating clean audio tracks that are usable in the movie,” he laughed.
Holland added that they’d try a lot of improv, but that most of the lines ended up being what was actually written.
As to how they came up with using just the bottom half of the father in the film, Rae said it developed over time. “There was one version of the story where it was like shoes, and then they would get something else that would create a little bit more, so that he kind of grew over the course [of the film].”
Scanlan mentioned they actually tried it out in real life. He said there were just, “pants, just walking around with a green screen cloth over our faces. We walked around khaki pants on.”
Are you guys excited to see Pixar’s Onward? Let us know in the comments!