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'When you don't remember someone who's passed away, it's a unique form of loss'

Pixar's latest film Onward is about two teenage elf brothers who use magic to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were young. Georgia Humphreys finds out more from cast members Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, writer and director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae


Animated fun: Pixar’s new film Onward

Animated fun: Pixar’s new film Onward

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt

Tom Holland

Tom Holland

Animated fun: Pixar’s new film Onward

From Up to Inside Out to the Toy Story series, it's not unusual to have a little cry at a Pixar film. And you should definitely have tissues at the ready when watching their latest animation Onward.

Set in a suburban fantasy world, it follows two teenage elf brothers, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt).

It's Ian's 16th birthday and mum Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives her sons a present from their late father, who died before Ian was born and when Barley was a young boy.

It turns out there's a spell which could bring their dad back for 24 hours, but they need a magic gem to complete it.

This sets the siblings off on an extraordinary quest.

The touching story is loosely based on writer and director Dan Scanlon's experiences.

"My father passed away when I was a year old and my brother was three," he says.

"We don't remember him. We always wondered who he was and it led to this idea of, 'What if we could meet him, and what would we do in a day?'"

The film beautifully explores the theme of grief , "or even, in some ways, the lack of grief",

"When you don't remember someone, it's a unique form of loss," says Scanlon (43).

"I think what you're searching for is, 'What was that love I lost? 'What does he think of me?', and trying to find that."

The film is packed with funny, empowering characters, in particular Laurel, who we see will go to great lengths to protect her sons.

Her most memorable line is when she cries, "I am a mighty warrior",

"It's also loosely based on my mum," says Scanlon, who has worked at Pixar since 2001 and also wrote and directed Monsters University.

"My mum raised us and supported us and protected us, she was our mighty warrior.

She's also very, very funny and that's why Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perfect for her."

We see Laurel team up with the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), a once-fierce warrior who has lost her fighting spirit.

"All families, I think, have supportive friends and family, which is what the Manticore is to me," explains Scanlon.

"She's this great warrior who's lost a little of her confidence and has succumbed to the fears that come with success.

"Sometimes fears of taking risks, wanting to keep things easy and simple and the way you like them ... I think that's a unique kind of fear that the Manticore represents."

Discussing the character of Ian, Holland (23) says he related to how he comes out of his shell as the film progresses, becoming "this confident person by the end of the film".

"When I first started in my career at Billy Elliot (in the West End), I wasn't an introvert, but I was quite a nervous kid and I wasn't particularly confident," adds the star, who was born in Kingston-upon-Thames.


Life lessons: Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) in Onward

Life lessons: Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) in Onward

Life lessons: Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) in Onward

"That process taught me to have good presence in a room and to hold yourself on a stage and to project to the back of the room. I think for me that similarity is where I meet Ian in the middle."

The two brothers at the centre of the film couldn't be more different. While Ian is shy and awkward when we first meet him, Barley is loud and seems so sure of who he is, although it becomes apparent he is perhaps a bit lost himself when it comes to the future.

What were dynamic duo Holland and Pratt like as teens at school?

"Not very good," admits Holland, best known for playing Spider-Man (Pratt plays fellow Marvel superhero Star-Lord in the Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise).

"I mean, I tried my best. I worked really hard and my parents made sure of that, but I was a bit of a class clown."

"I was literally the class clown - they (fellow pupils) voted me the class clown," adds Virginia-born Pratt, chuckling.

"I think if I hadn't become an actor, I would have been one of those guys who peaked in high school," continues the 40-year-old, also known for US sitcom Parks And Recreation.

"I loved sports, I loved my teachers and I'm still great friends with all my teachers.

"I was one of the very few people in America who looks at his public school experiences and says, 'God, I loved that. I really had a great time in school.'"

During the moving, action-packed adventure, Ian overcomes a lot of fears.

It's something the film-makers had to do themselves throughout the process of bringing Onward to life.

"We all had to be vulnerable in this process. Because it's such a personal story, we wanted to share each of our own stories to kind of help fill out Dan's personal story," recalls American producer Kori Rae, who worked with Scanlon on Monsters University.

"We needed to be vulnerable and take risks, and that's what Ian is trying to do. He's trying to get over his lack of confidence and take risks.

"Film-making is scary and we had to face this on a daily basis."

"A big part of the movie is about trusting your gut and I think that's something I learned on the process of the film - and I'm always learning on every film - the balance between trusting your gut and listening," adds Scanlon.

It's certainly a film that will make you think. If you could spend 24 hours with someone who is no longer with us, who would you choose?

Asked this question, Pratt decides on Einstein.

"I just think it would be interesting to show him the world and be like, 'Can you believe this? This is so futuristic.'

"Because it's a slow boil for us - we're in the year 2020 now - apart from flying cars it's like truly living in the future."

Holland, meanwhile, gives a much more personal answer.

"Do you know what? I would like to bring back my grandad Bob's dad because he never met his dad," he says.

"He died when he was 18 months old, so it would be amazing for my grandad Bob to meet his dad.

"He would love that."

Onward is in cinemas now

Belfast Telegraph