Creating Pixar’s Onward

Creating Pixar’s Onward

On Valentine’s Day, I had the honor of going to the Pixar’s Onward press junket. In attendance was director Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, and the voice actors in the lead roles Tom Holland (Ian) and Chris Pratt (Barley). To open up the conference, Scanlon (whose previous PIxar director role was with Monsters University) told us a moving story that inspired Onward:

Scanlon lost his father when he was three, so never knew what his father was like. When he was a teen, he came across a home video that had some audio of his father speaking; which would be the first time he would get to hear his father talk. Even though it was just one word of audio, it meant the world to him. Every piece of information he received about his dad felt like a treasure. From his personal life experiences, the idea for Onward was born.

Pixar began creating the film six years ago. Producer Kori Rae shared that everyone working on the project invested a lot into the story, largely due to it being based on Scanlon’s personal life story. Once Holland and Pratt were added into the mix, Scanlon & Rae said the story really started to take off since they made Barley and Ian more complex and real. Holland added a vulnerability to Ian that wasn’t there before, versus a “know-it-all” attitude. Pratt made Barley become more of a father figure character versus the “goofy idiot” character stereotype.

Scanlon’s instinct was to initially have Barley jealous of Ian and his magical capabilities, but Pratt felt that Barley wouldn’t feel that way. He said his love for his brother Ian is so strong that he is nothing but supportive of Ian’s gift of magic. Pratty shared how this is much like his own personal life. His older brother acted when he was a teenager, but later on in life didn’t become an actor. Not once has he been jealous of Pratt’s career as an actor, only supportive. He modeled his take on Barley after his own older brother. 

Holland talked about how playing a brother relationship with Pratt came very naturally. With his time in the Avengers films acting alongside Pratt, they were already close in real life. Pratt enjoyed this natural love and chemistry they had for one another that radiates on screen during Pixar’s Onward. As you often see contentious brother relationships in movies, Pratt felt showing a loving relationship was a refreshing (and in his case more accurate) depiction of brotherhood.

A question that came up about creating Pixar’s Onward was how did they land on the fantasy element when it was based on a real life story. Scanlon knew in this story there had to be a magical way to bring the dad back to life for a day, which is where the idea of magic was first proposed. That all made more sense in a fantasy world where magic once existed. And from that, the setting for Pixar’s Onward was born!

Pixar’s Onward is coming to theatres March 6th. You can find tickets here!


A look into creating Pixar's Onward from the press conference interviews with director Dan Scanlon, producer Kori Rae, Tom Holland & Chris Pratt.

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