Onward is Pixar’s latest animation from the awesome Director and Producer duo, Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae. The pair worked previously on Monsters University but teamed up for a second time to make this original fantasy-world film based around two elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), who are on a quest to bring their Dad back to life just for one day.
Now don’t worry, Pixar has not taken a gruesome and grizzly turn over to the horror movie genre resurrecting bodies from the dead. It’s all done in a rather emotional and comical way that is totally kid friendly. In fact this story is really personal to the film’s director Dan, it’s based on his childhood with his own brother, they lost their father before Dan was really old enough to remember and he spent a long time looking for old videos or tapes to remember his father by but all they could find was a tape recording taken at a wedding it simply had 2 words of his father’s speech “Hi and Bye”. This film resonates around the idea of – What would you do if you had one day to spend with a loved one that had been lost?
We were treated to a special screening of some of the film’s footage in London hosted by the film’s producer Kori Rae who we then caught up with to chat about the film.
We asked Kori what she thought it was about stories with non-human, fictional characters, whether it be Elves as in this case or Toys or Monsters, that we find so appealing as an audience?
“Well, I think that we still, whether they are toys or monsters or elves, are giving them human-like like attributes and emotions because that’s how we have to connect with them as an audience member.” Using Toy Story’s Woody as an example she explained, “even though Woody’s a toy, we can relate to him because of the character that is built around him.”
It was an unusual situation that Kori and Dan found themselves being in, as this film was created around Dan’s own childhood, having to cast the role of Ian – the younger elf brother who is based on Dan himself. We asked Kori how they coped with the strange situation.
“It was tricky, there were some logistical things that we needed to make sure happened, the actor needed to sound 16 but have the acting chops and experience of an older actor, so finding that age range in someone who sounds naive and awkward and stuff – it was a tricky balance to find, but who has experience and also can bring that depth of acting and that’s what Tom brings so well, he just is the entire package.”
Kori is, of course, referring to Tom Holland best known for playing Spider-Man, who stars in Onward alongside his Marvel brother in arms Chris Pratt who plays his older and energetic brother Barley. The onscreen dynamics of these siblings is great, plenty of comical moments are born out of the brothers differing personalities and brotherly banter. We wondered if Kori was surprised how well this partnership worked considering we had been told the actors barely had any recording time together?
“I know, It is crazy. We were just so fortunate that it turned out they had this personal relationship outside of work, that was born from them working together, but they’re friends, they go golfing as their schedules allow but the connection really did come through, we’re so lucky.”
The footage that we saw had some great animation, frankly we’d expect nothing less from Pixar, whole cities and landscapes created in this fantasy world where magic has, put simply, lost its magic. Where casting spells to create light had become a lot more tiresome since the lightbulb was invented, the same with flying since vehicles, the modern way of life had taken over from the old ways of magic although a few magic enthusiasts like Barley still have love for the old art form. Onward has mythical and legendary creatures living in a modern utopia loosely based on LA. In one scene we were treated to, a band of ragged unicorns rummage through household bins like raccoons or foxes would. In another scene, a once fierce and proud Manicore (that’s a creature part lion, scorpion, bat, and human for those who aren’t up to scratch on their mythology) played by the vivacious Octavia Spencer is now running a highly-themed fast-food restaurant full of her own Manticore merchandise.
We asked Kori how with all the free reign that was given to her and Dan to create these visual worlds and characters they make sure they stop it becoming absurd?
“Restraint! You know there’s a little bit of restraint. That’s the beauty of our process. The thing with animation is the teams can go crazy and design everything and it’s Dan and I’s job to pair it down and make sure that everything is there to serve the story.”
Kori has been working on this film for the past 6 years and is looking forward to it being released to the world. We too can not wait to see the whole film when it is released on 6th March. And to find out if brothers Ian and Barley actually do you get to spend a whole day with their father by using magic.