Press Conference: How “Onward” Hit Close to Home For Its Stars

This week, Disney-Pixar and director Dan Scanlon introduce the world to Ian and Barley Lightfoot–elf brothers whose need to see their late father leads them to a botched spell, a disembodied pair of pants, and an epic adventure in Onward.

© Disney

At a recent press conference, actors Chris Pratt (Barley) and Tom Holland (Ian), joined Dan Scanlon (Director), and Kori Rae (Producer) to talk about the movie and their personal relationship to its story and characters.

Panel highlights:

Onward press junket with Chris Pratt (Barley), Tom Holland (Ian), Dan Scanlon (Director), and Kori Rae (Producer)
Dan Scanlon is photographed on May 30, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Scanlon on the personal quality of Onward“…it is a very personal story.  Much like the characters in the movie, 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, you know, who he was and how we were like him.  

“…I think that question became the seat of Onward, which is what if you could meet him?  What if you could have one day and what would you learn, what, would you ask?  And then we added the elves and the sprites to that incredibly sad story.”

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland at the Onward press junket.

Holland and Pratt on relating to Ian and Barley:  

Holland:  “…Because Chris and I were obviously so close already before we even came on to this film, it was almost like we were just playing ourselves…but the similarities between Ian and myself go back to more when I was sort of in my early teens, 12, 13.  I was a little bit of an introvert. I was a very nervous kid and I had a hard time in school…it wasn’t until I went on this adventure that was Billy Elliot where I sort of came out of my shell and I became more confident in myself and I believed in myself.   And what drew me so much to this character was that we get to see that entire journey that I went on as a kid in him throughout this film.”

Pratt:  “…One thing that I really like…it was a note that Dan gave me that was actually against my own instinct, but I’m very glad that we went with what he wanted to on this, which was Barley was never jealous of the fact that he didn’t have the magic gift.  And I think that that, to me, I didn’t realize until seeing the movie, was something very similar to my own relationship with my brother, in which I was the Ian. I was the younger brother.  

“…My brother, for instance, always wanted to be an actor.  The first time I ever saw my mom cry was watching him do a play.  He was a Pooh Bear in the first grade Christmas play, and I was like Wow, that’s amazing. Being an actor is awesome.  I wanna be an actor…Anyways, he went in the army, he didn’t become an actor, but I became an actor, and there was that moment where Barley realizes that Ian has the gift.  My instinct was like ‘Do you think Barley wishes that he had the magic gift? Because he’s the one who loves magic, he wasn’t able to do this, but his younger brother was.’  And I think this was really the heart of the film…he loves his brother so much that he’s just so proud of him that he has this gift, that he’s been given this gift. And when I saw that in the movie how it was expressed, it really made me appreciate how my brother was with me ’cause he’s-my whole life and during my career–only ever been super encouraging and positive about what I’ve been able to do as an actor, and I think that’s what makes this brotherhood and this relationship so special and it’s why grown men come up to me and say, ‘Wow.  I really was moved. I really cried. This is like Field of Dreams, a Radio Flyer to me.'”

The panel on who they would bring back for one day: 

Kori Rae is photographed on May 30, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Rae:  “That would probably be…my grandfather.  I think much like the film, I would just wanna hang out with him and probably ask him a ton of questions.  My family wasn’t great about passing on family history, and so there are a lot of blanks, a lot of areas that I don’t know about.  So I think I would just wanna ask a ton of questions.”

Scanlon:  “I would probably see my dad…maybe take him to see the movie, and then he’d say “eh.”  No, I mean, you know, you’re just spending a day just talking, just walking around and asking and also letting him know what a phenomenal job my mother did raising us and how she gave us everything we could have ever wanted.”

Holland:  “My granddad, Bob, he never actually met his dad.  His dad passed away when he was 18 months. So I would bring back my great-grandfather so my granddad would have the opportunity to meet his dad.”

Pratt:  “I would probably bring back my dad, who passed away just before Guardians of The Galaxy came out, and then I would show him Guardians of The Galaxy, and then if he didn’t like it, pfff.  I’d wave–I’d bring back like a known criminal…and beat him up on like, uh, Instagram live or something to become popular.  ‘Cause if my dad didn’t like Guardians, I would be like ‘all right. You can go back to heaven.'”

Scanlon and Holland on the role of technology in the film:

Scanlon:  “I think we certainly didn’t wanna make a movie that was saying technology was bad because technology is how we make our movies.  It’s magic in its own way.  It was really a softer look at, you know, the ease that comes with it, the comfort that comes with it sometimes, and not giving up on taking the hard road a little.  As I mentioned earlier, magic is really a metaphor for potential in this movie and when you look at some of the characters in the film, they’re not throwing away everything modern. They’re just getting in touch a little bit with that challenge in life, getting outside and trying something new.”

Holland:  “I think the film being called Onward–the only way to go onward is to look forward, and you can’t look forward if you’re looking at your phone…I think the film is kind of a metaphor for like look out, the world is an amazing place, it’s a beautiful place.  Experience it through your own eyes, not through someone else’s Instagram account, you know?”

Trash Unicorns at the Onward press junket

Also on display at the press junket were examples of the many fun and creative pieces of merchandise that will be released in conjunction with the film.

Onward merchandise
Onward merchandise
Onward merchandise
Onward merchandise
Onward merchandise

Onward opens in U.S. theaters on March 6, 2020.

In case you’ve missed it, here’s the trailer for the new film:

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Jeanine resides in Southern California, pursuing the sort of lifestyle that makes her the envy of every 11-year-old she meets. She has been to every Disney theme park in the world and while she finds Tokyo DisneySea the Fairest Of Them All, Disneyland is her Home Park... and there is no place like home.

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