What happens when two elf brothers try to bring their dad back to life with magic, but are only able to summon his legs? That's the question the new Pixar movie Onward will answer when it hits theaters March 6. But while the premise is pretty silly and the film is full of jokes for kids, it does, like many Pixar movies, tackle a serious topic. Onward has to do with the death of a parent, and it was inspired by writer-director Dan Scanlon's own experience.
Onward follows 16-year-old Ian (Tom Holland) and 19-year-old Barley (Chris Pratt), who find out that they can use magic to bring back their deceased father for one day. In their world, magic used to be common, but has now fallen by the wayside, although they're surrounded by magical creatures like unicorns on a daily basis. Ian never got to meet his father, because he died before Ian was born. Both brothers are excited to try out magic for themselves and in the hopes of seeing their dad. Unfortunately, they aren't very practiced and only manage to bring back his bottom half. Their mission sets off from there as they try to figure out how to complete their spell.
The basis of the story is from Scanlon's real life. The Monsters University director's father died in a car accident when he was one and his brother was three. When he was 16, rather than being give a spell book and a wizard's staff like Ian, he was given a cassette tape by his aunt and uncle that had a recording of his father's voice. "I felt: ‘Oh, I can tell he’s shy and nervous when he over-says the hi. Then I can tell he’s a little awkward when he says goodbye. Oh, he’s my brother and I!'" Scanlon told the Guardian of hearing the tape.
Scanlon decided to take that inspiration and the suburban area he grew up in, and add magic. He told the Guardian that he and his brother "also had this mythical person in our suburbs, in our lore, so the setting made sense." And the writer told Screen Rant that Onward became a fantasy story, because it kind of had to be.
"We did know that we wanted to tell this personal story and we did know we wanted to tell the story about these kids getting this chance to meet their dad," Scanlon said of himself and producer Kori Rae. "And we thought, well, that's magic. I don't know how else you do it. And that did lead to the fun of like, 'What if this was a fantasy story? And what if it was a very modern one?'"
Audiences will get to see how this story of fantasy and loss comes together as Onward hits theaters. And, of course, they'll also get to see where this one ranks on the Pixar waterworks scale.