We may have been a little worried about Pixar‘s sequel-heavy approach to filmmaking for a bit. However, the animation studio has finally revealed some crucial updates for a hotly anticipated original that will kickstart a fresh new era on the horizon.
The amount of narrative and character depth found in Pixar films across the board can be bountiful, to say the least. Any actor would dream of hopping on board one of these productions. Now, per Variety, Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer can count themselves among the lucky performers who will get to lend their voices to a Pixar flick.
Originally announced as an untitled “suburban fantasy” at the 2017 D23 Expo, the film is now officially called Onward (after a bit of Reddit speculation a few months ago). The project will be directed by Monsters University‘s Dan Scanlon. He penned the screenplay with C.S. Anderson, who worked as a modeler on the hefty animated projects Big Hero 6, Zootopia, and Moana.
Onward is, according to Cartoon Brew, classified as the rare human-less Pixar film. Instead, it’s populated by elves, trolls, and sprites. Specifically, the story follows two teenage elf brothers (who will presumably be voiced by Pratt and Holland) who are on a mission to harness magic, however little of it is left in the world.
Scanlon did further reveal at D23 last year that these characters’ motivations are simple yet profoundly heartbreaking: having been fatherless since they were little, the boys are looking for “a chance to spend one last magical day” with him. The director explains that Onward is actually based on his own experience of losing his father at a young age. And he affirms this fact in the most recent statement, saying:
“At Pixar, we try to create stories that come from some kind of personal truth. This film was inspired by my own relationship with my brother.”
After years of proving its mettle, the combination of Pixar’s prowess in animation and this stellar cast alone is too good a mash-up to ignore. Of course, Pixar isn’t a stranger to having big stars appear on its roster in the slightest — Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, and Ellen DeGeneres are just a smattering of them. Yet, this specific blend of superhero mainstays Pratt and Holland alongside comedy queen Louis-Dreyfus and dramatic heavyweight Spencer draws together an especially noteworthy bunch.
SyFy Wire further reports that both Scanlon and producer Kori Rae (who also worked on Monsters University) have had nothing but praise for their picks. Judging from choice quotes like “[Spencer] can do it all” to “[Holland] has an infectious charm and sincerity that makes you root for him in every character he plays,” each actor is leaning into their core strengths in order to personify their Onward. I’m especially looking forward to Louis-Dreyfus’ warm character, and Spencer reportedly bringing both levity and pathos to her role.
But the strengths of Onward also rests in its existential baseline, a story that already rings profoundly. I remember registering the project as that germinating untitled movie that seemed too far off to worry about amid all the news of Pixar stuff in the works. The collective influence and promise of Coco, The Incredibles 2, and Toy Story 4 had been clouding the senses then.
Yet, it’s undeniable that Pixar has mastered a winning formula for their movies, for the most part. The right blend of impressive animation and a relatable storyline does wonders to transcend audience age groups and reach people of all walks of life.
A number of those Pixar’s movies have stemmed from the personal anecdotes of their core creators. FSR’s Bethany Wade ruffled some feathers with her controversial Pixar ranking, but I can’t fault Inside Out for stealing the top spot. Least of all when writer-director Pete Docter had a powerful story to tell from the word go. He based Inside Out on his own awkward coming-of-age years, as well as his observations of what his daughter eventually went through as a pre-teen.
Meanwhile, Finding Nemo connects to its helmer Andrew Stanton thanks to optimistic dentist trips as well as a recognition of his own overprotective tendencies as a parent. The first installment of The Incredibles was borne from director Brad Bird’s thoughts on his uncertain future as he approached middle age with enormous ambitions.
Obviously, inspiration has blossomed in many other forms in Pixar movies, although they do follow a similar blueprint each time. Among its most impactful films, the studio asks huge questions about humanity and the environment in Wall-E, celebrates Mexican culture and family identity in Coco, and upends our fear of the monsters in the dark in Monsters Inc. Hidden in these children’s movies are basal questions about growing up. That’s how full-grown adults like me can find something intellectually worthy in the best Pixar films.
Observably, the animation house has tended to falter when it chooses to handle plots that don’t push imaginative boundaries enough or are too generic. That’s certainly the case for the Cars sequels and The Good Dinosaur. In those instances, good voice acting couldn’t really bring those films out of being just “okay” in comparison to the rest of Pixar’s slate (and Cars 2, in general, is just a gigantic flop).
Still, all that we know about Onward so far has boosted the project’s profile in a great way. There’s some serious competition out there in the animation world these days and it’s high time Pixar got back in the game of original works. Having Star-Lord and Spider-Man tell a potentially robust story is a wonderful place to start.