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Set in a suburban fantasy world, Disney and Pixar’s “Onward” introduces two teenage elf brothers who embark on an extraordinary quest to discover if there is still a little magic left out there. “The story is inspired by my own relationship with my brother and our connection with our dad who passed away when I was about a year old,” says director Dan Scanlon. “He’s always been a mystery to us. A family member sent us a tape recording of him saying just two words: ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ Two words. But to my brother and me—it was magic.

“That was the jumping-off point,” continues Scanlon. “We’ve all lost someone, and if we could spend one more day with them—what an exciting opportunity that would be. We knew that if we wanted to tell that story that we’d have to set the movie in a world where you could have that incredible opportunity.”

 

Trailers

 

 

 

Character Design

 
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Ian Lightfoot

Ian a newly 16-year-old elf, yearns for the father he lost back before he was born. Ian is sweet and determined with the best of intentions, but his lack of confidence and nervous energy trips him up more often than not. Ian is convinced that if only he had his father’s guidance, his life wouldn’t be so complicated and messy. “Ian is the everyman,” says Scanlon. “He’s a little introverted like I am. He’s a logical kid, practical. He understands the world he lives in and just wants to fit into that world—especially at age 16. He doesn’t want to change the world. He’d rather go unnoticed.”

His father’s unexpected gift on his birthday sets into motion the quest of a lifetime—but Ian’s not sure if his fantasy-obsessed, mortifyingly immodest brother Barley can get them where they need to go. According to Scanlon, while Ian is the one with the ability to perform magic, it's Barley who understands how it all works. “Ian finally realizes he can perform the spell his dad left them, but he’s not good enough to finish it. Barley tries to help, but Ian fears Barley’s help will only make things worse.” 

Scanlon says that magic is a big part of the story—but that there’s more to it than spells and spectacle. “Magic is a metaphor for their potential. In order to do magic, you have to take risks. You have to believe in yourself. You have to trust yourself. You have to listen. No matter what magic Ian does, he always has to be challenged in a way that allows him to grow.”

Tom Holland provides the voice of Ian. “Tom has an infectious charm and sincerity that makes you root for him in every character he plays,” says Scanlon. 

 

Barley Lightfoot

Barley is a big, burly and boisterous 19-year-old elf who loves magic and immerses himself in role-playing fantasy game play. He’s a free spirit who may be slightly more passionate about the past than the present—and he’ll fight to the death, so to speak, to preserve historical landmarks. But because he's so focused on the past, he struggles to find success in the present. Says head of story Kelsey Mann, “Barley is way more focused on leveling up his character in Quests of Yore than he is in his own life. Barley’s character may be able to slay any beast in the game, but in real life he struggles to hold down a job."

When their late father inadvertently sends them on an epic quest together—one highlighted by mystery and magic—Barley fires up his beloved and mostly dependable van Guinevere and never looks back. “Barley has been preparing for this moment his whole life,” says producer Kori Rae. “And he’s confident—maybe a little too confident—that he can deliver.”

Chris Pratt voices Barley. “Chris brings equal parts huge heart and fantastic humor to his character,” says Rae.

 

Laurel Lightfoot (Mom)

Laurel Lightfoot is a hardworking, sardonic and devoted single mom who throws herself whole-heartedly into everything she does. Laurel lost her husband years ago, but her drive and determination helped her overcome the hardship and make the most of her life with her much-loved sons, Ian and Barley. “Her true gift is that she’s amazing at mothering each son—and they’re as different as they can be—in the way they need to be mothered,” says Rae. “She can be tough and crazy like Barley, and still be sensitive and subdued with Ian.”

According to characters supervisor Jeremie Talbot, Laurel’s connection to her sons is reflected in her appearance. “She has a little bit of Ian in her and a little bit of Barley, too. As all three characters evolved, it was like a dance to keep it all balanced.”

When the boys embark on a potentially dangerous adventure, Laurel will do anything to protect them—even if that means taking off on her own precarious journey. 

Julia Louis-Dreyfus lends her voice to Laurel. “There is no one funnier than Julia,” says Scanlon, “but she also brings a warmth and loving side to her character.” 

 

Wilden Lightfoot (Dad)

Wilden Lightfoot is the late father of Barley and Ian. A smart, confident and determined man, Dad discovered a creative, albeit fantastic way to reconnect with his sons long after his passing. An ancient staff and magical spell reveal Dad’s plan that allows Ian and Barley to conjure him for 24 hours. But magic, it turns out, is far from a perfect science and the boys are only able to bring back half of their dad, the bottom half, on first pass. That half joins them on a quest to retrieve a Phoenix Gem in an effort to fully conjure Dad before time runs out. 

Says Scanlon, “We kept asking, ‘How can we give these brothers a glimpse of Dad without actually meeting him right away?’ That’s where the idea of creating half a dad came from. It was like that message I got on tape from my dad—it’s just a little taste of that person, and it makes you want more.”

 

The Manticore (Corey)

The Manticore is at least a thousand years old, but that’s just middle-aged for her species. Part lion, part bat and part scorpion, the Manticore was once a fearless warrior and proprietor of a dark and mysterious tavern that served as a waystation for travelers embarking on epic quests. But as modern conveniences replaced magic and any need for quests, the Manticore tapped her practical side, transforming her tavern into a family-friendly restaurant with family-friendly games and fried foods aplenty. She may not realize it, but her adventurous spirit still lurks within. According to Rae, Barley and Ian go to see the Manticore in order to get a map that will lead them to the Phoenix Gem—a second gem that will allow them to complete the spell to bring their dad back. “Barley knows all about the Manticore by playing the historically based fantasy game Quests of Yore,” she says. “So they’re expecting to find this amazing warrior, but instead they meet Corey, a hard-working, stressed-out restaurant owner.” 

Octavia Spencer was called on to help bring the Manticore to life. “Octavia can do it all,” said Rae. “We’re especially excited about the depth as well as humor that she brings to her character.”

 

Officer Colt Bronco

Colt follows the rules and sincerely expects those around him to respect authority like he does. Half horse and half man, Colt is strong and commanding, but unaware of the destruction he typically leaves in his full-bodied wake. He treasures his relationship with Laurel Lightfoot, and earnestly wants to connect with her two sons, Ian and Barley. “Colt is a cop, but he has a soft underbelly,” says Rae. “He’s a standup guy.”

But teenagers that they are, the boys aren’t exactly jumping at the opportunity to bond with him. “Just having an adult man in their house on a regular basis isn’t something they’ve ever experienced,” says Scanlon. 

Mel Rodriguez was cast to voice Colt Bronco. “We knew we needed someone who could give Colt a militaristic bravado but be super sweet on the inside,” says Rae. “Mel can say stern things, but the sweetness comes through in his vocal quality.”

 

Guinevere

Guinevere is more than just a van—she’s Barley’s mighty steed! Built from the ground up by Barley himself, the groovy purple van is a bit rundown, but spectacularly decked her out with crescent moon windows and a Pegasus mural. So, of course Barley calls on Guinevere to shepherd them on their epic quest. “He built her without a manual or really any automotive knowledge,” says Scanlon. “And the end result reflects that.”

 

Blazey

Blazey is the Lightfoots’ pet dragon. Friendly and more than a little hyperactive, she can wreak havoc with just a wag of her tail or a spark of her fire breath. “The original, fire-breathing dragons among the knights evolved into domesticated house pets,” says Talbot. “Blazey is almost like a snake with legs and wings. She has a giant tongue and pants like a dog.”

 

Unicorns

Unicorns aren’t the graceful and majestic creatures they once were. The dumpster-diving vermin of New Mushroomton are often seen eating garbage and hissing at anyone who poses a threat to their stinky stash. 

 
 

World Design

 
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Familiar Fantasy

“In many ways, it’s a story about rebalancing,” says director Dan Scanlon. “Usually fantasy films take place long ago in a very noble time in a very beautiful land. There was something unique about seeing these characters in a world that’s familiar to us. It’s fun to imagine them riding skateboards, taking the bus, watching TV or playing video games. It’s something we haven't seen before—it’s such a juxtaposition watching an elf have to take his kid to soccer practice.” 

 

Trust Bridge

Among the locations the brothers encounter on their quest is an old drawbridge, which marks a pivotal point in their journey. “This scene is really the moment when we move from the familiar into the full fantasy world,” says Klocek. 

Artists placed the rising sun and soft clouds in the sky on one side of an expansive, bottomless pit. Imposing mountains and dark clouds can be seen on the other side. The pit, says Klocek, is “big and foreboding.” 

Ian is charged with pulling off his biggest spell yet to cross the massive crevasse with nothing but his own faith beneath his feet. “It comes at a crucial point in the film,” says producer Kori Rae. “Ian is put to the test—not only to face his fears, summon courage he’s not sure he has and step out over a bottomless pit—but to trust his brother like never before. It’s a terrifying scene to watch—especially if you’re afraid of heights, and honestly, even if you’re not.”

 

Homes

The décor inside the homes is mostly familiar—with some notable exceptions. The shape of the interior had to match the exterior, so artists studied cob houses—organic structures using ancient building techniques—that had similar shapes to those in New Mushroomton. Details within the home embraced the fantasy backdrop, too. For example, the backsplash and door handles in the Lightfoot home have an elf design.

 

Suburbia

According to production designer Noah Klocek, filmmakers spent a lot of time defining what a modern fantasy setting might look like. “While it’s a fantasy movie, it’s not about being a fantasy movie,” he says. “It’s a story of these two brothers and the journey they go on,” he says. “Where we landed is that it’s the fantastic and the familiar—it’s the balance of those things.”Filmmakers were inspired by the Los Angeles region, ultimately deciding to locate their fantasy suburb in a fictional location similar to the area. “It’s like Los Feliz of maybe 20 years ago,” says Klocek. “We also looked at Frogtown near L.A. and suburbs of Sacramento, too.”

According to the production designer, they set a target ratio with regard to the familiar and fantastic elements. “It’s almost frame by frame,” he says. “The ratio we came up with is 70/30—70 percent familiar and 30 percent fantasy. It doesn’t work in every situation, and we discovered early on that sometimes the characters would tip that scale.” 

Indeed, a world populated by elves, gnomes, trolls and the like might feel more fantastic. “The characters easily met that 30-percent fantasy threshold,” says Klocek. “So almost everything else had to be familiar. But if there were no characters in a shot, we felt we could introduce something like a mushroom-shaped house.”

They balanced the unusual shape with familiar suburban details like California ranch-style siding, awnings, lawns, mailboxes and telephone poles. “The only thing that screams fantasy is the giant mushroom,” says Klocek. “The idea is that a developer planted them 15 years ago and built houses into them.”

 
 

Credits

 
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DIRECTED BY
Dan Scanlon 

PRODUCED BY
Kori Rae, p.g.a. 

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
Pete Docter

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
Becky Neiman-Cobb

ORIGINAL STORY BY
Dan Scanlon
Keith Bunin
Jason Headley

SCREENPLAY BY
Dan Scanlon
Jason Headley
Keith Bunin

ORIGINAL SCORE COMPOSED BY
Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna

STORY SUPERVISOR
Kelsey Mann

FILM EDITOR
Catherine Apple

PRODUCTION DESIGNER
Noah Klocek

SUPERVISING TECHNICAL DIRECTOR
Sanjay Bakshi

PRODUCTION MANAGER
Alice ClendeneN

ANIMATION SUPERVISORS
Michael StockerRob
Duquette Thompson

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Sharon Calahan, ASC

DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Adam HabiB

CHARACTER SUPERVISOR
Jeremie Talbot 

SETS SUPERVISOR
Amy L. Allen 

SIMULATION SUPERVISOR
Jacob Brooks

EFFECTS SUPERVISOR
Vincent Serritella

LIGHTING SUPERVISORS
Jonathan PytkoJor
dan Rempel

LIGHTING TECHNICAL SUPERVISOR
Tim Best 

ANIMATION CROWDS SUPERVISOR
Sequoia Blankenship

CROWDS TECHNICAL SUPERVISOR
Paul Kanyuk

TECHNOLOGY & PIPELINE SUPERVISOR
Sudeep Rangaswamy

VOLUMETRIC CLOUDS SUPERVISOR
Matthew Webb

RENDERING SUPERVISOR
Alexander Kolliopoulos

CHARACTER ART DIRECTOR
Matt Nolte

SETS ART DIRECTOR
Huy Nguyen

SHADING ART DIRECTOR
Bert Berry

GRAPHICS ART DIRECTOR
Paul Conrad 

STORY MANAGER
Jenni Rowland

EDITORIAL MANAGER
Daniella Muller

ART MANAGERS
Cathleen Carmean Pienaar
Isabel Conde Maki

ANIMATION MANAGER
Russell Jessup Stough

LAYOUT MANAGER
Rachel Raffael-Gates

CHARACTER MANAGER
Lucy Laliberte

SETS MANAGER
Courtney Casper Kent

SIMULATION MANAGER
Pauline Chu

EFFECTS MANAGER
Jesús Martínez

LIGHTING MANAGER
Kathryn Hendrickson

RENDERING MANAGER
Mark Milla

SOUND DESIGNERS
Nia Hansen
Shannon Mills

POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
Jessie Thiele Schroeder 

casting by
Natalie Lyon, CSA
Kevin Reher, CSA 

casting associate
Kate Hansen-Birnbaum 


cast


Ian Lightfoot

Tom Holland

Barley Lightfoot
Chris Pratt

Laurel Lightfoot
Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The Manticore
Octavia Spencer

Colt Bronco
Mel Rodriguez

Wilden Lightfoot (Dad)
Kyle Bornheimer

Officer Specter
Lena Waithe

Officer Gore
Ali Wong 

Dewdrop (Pixie Dusters Leader)
Grey Griffin

Grecklin (Pawn Shop Owner)
Tracey Ullman 

Gaxton (College Friend) 
Wilmer Valderrama

Officer Avel
George Psarras

Construction Worker Fennwick
John Ratzenberger

 
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