The latest film from celebrated animation studio Pixar is set to be, unsurprisingly, another hit. Many Pixar movies explore growing up, and Onward is no different. That’s despite being set in a fantasy world of unicorns, elves and manticores.
The world we’re introduced to is one in which magic has all but disappeared. As the population gradually became more and more reliant on modern conveniences, so the magic died. Or, rather, lay dormant. Until, that is, one elf teenager is inspired, alongside his elder brother, to rediscover it – and in the process uncovers his own magical tendencies. Together, they head off on a quest to bring their father back to life for a short time – Dungeons and Dragons style, naturally.
Off the back off of a run of sequels — Cars 3 (2017), Incredibles 2 (2018) and Toy Story 4 (2019) — Pixar committed to making new original content, with Onward the first of two brand new stories to hit screens this year. Soul, an imaginative take on reincarnation, is the second, set for a June release. But is Onward likely to be a one-off, like Inside Out and A Bug’s Life before it? Or are there plans to expand the universe through a follow-up?
Onward To Games and Comic Books
Onward certainly capitalizes on the resurgence in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games, and fantasy as a genre in general (Game of Thrones, anyone?). And as interest continues to grow (The Witcher and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance are two recent Netflix successes), it would make sense to cater to those hungry audiences. In that respect, producer Kori Rae and director Dan Scanlon won’t dismiss the idea of a sequel.
When asked if she can envisage more films set within this world, Rae says, “Well, yeah. I don’t know. No plans yet. We’re just excited to get this particular movie out into the world. But we’ll see. Who knows?”
Whatever comes to pass – and no doubt the box office will do the talking – it’s a universe they’re already expanding in other ways.
“We’ve got lots of fun publishing things that are coming out — games and comic books and that kind of thing,” says Scanlon. “Because we do love this world. It is really fun, and there’s a lot more out there in that world that you can see.”
Like the talking trees that almost made it into the movie?
“We had talking trees in the movie, and it was a forest of talking trees in the old days,” explains Scanlon. “But by the time the boys [Ian and Barley] got there, it was a parking lot with a few trees in the little, tiny landscaped areas. And we had that in the movie for years. It was super funny, but we had to cut it.”
Perhaps they’ll end up in a sequel.
“The live-action sequel?” laughs Scanlon.
Casting a Live-Action ‘Onward’
We’ve been discussing Disney’s live-action remakes, what with Mulan coming out later this month, and what they’d make of a live-action remake of Onward. Being, of course, that no Pixar movie has yet received the live-action treatment.
“We did it,” jokes Scanlon, without missing a beat. “At the same time we were making the animated version, we were also filming the live-action version. So it’ll be on the DVD and you can choose to watch it either way, or just split-screen.”
He admits he doesn’t know how he’d feel, although this being such a personal project – it’s based on his own childhood growing up with no memory of his father who died when he was very young – you would imagine he’d have strong feelings one way or the other.
As for Rae, she says it “would seem odd at this at this point” to put out a live-action remake of a Pixar movie.
Scanlon does, however, suggest that perhaps the casting of Chris Pratt as elder brother Barley and Tom Holland as the younger Ian could stay the same: “I mean, they do look like them, which wasn’t our plan — we designed the characters before Chris and Tom, but both actors walked in and saw the designs and said, ‘It looks like me a little bit.’”
As ever with interviews, we took questions from Fandom’s fan communities to put to Rae and Scanlon, and here are their responses to some of those we asked:
Seeing unicorns scavenging from trash cans in the trailer resonated with young Emmie Jennings, who asked, “Would trash unicorns make good pets?”
The answer was a resounding no.
“Well, I think they probably have rabies,” says Scanlon. “So I would not advise people bring them into their homes. I think that would be a bad idea.”
Which leads to a question from Chuck Clarke, who wanted to know what their favourite fantasy creature was.
Rae picks a creature from the film: “I really love the Manticore. I love that she’s a whole bunch of stuff that doesn’t really go together. It’s so far-fetched and so out there and she can do anything because she can. She has all those parts.”
In the film, the Manticore is a winged creature, with the body of a lion and the tail of a giant scorpion. She is voiced by Octavia Spencer.
Scanlon, meanwhile, loves another fantasy being: “I like elves, because they’re basically just people with pointy ears. So I relate to them … we tried to keep it to characters that a layman would know. But then we did a couple of deeper cuts in there. I’m sure the story artists who are really into fantasy pitched characters that I’d never heard of that were so out there.”
Finally, Henry South wanted to know about the decisions that went into the design of the dad’s trousers – particularly important since for the majority of the film we only ever see his bottom half — and whether there was any backlash when it was suggested the dad wouldn’t be wearing jean shorts.
“Nice reference to my father who wore a lot of jean shorts back in the ‘70s,” laughs Scanlon. “[They were] fun to design, and ridiculous, and part of the fun of making one of these movies is having these unique, weird, awkward moments — and we kind of wanted it to be that for the boys. They messed up the spell and now they’re stuck with this weird version of their dad. But you’d be surprised at all the meetings about the tailoring of his khaki pants and the shoes looking just right!”
You can watch Pixar’s Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae answer fan questions and more in the video at the top of the page.
Onward hits screens on March 6.