Onward follows two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot, as they find a magical spell that allows them to bring their father back to life for one day. “My brother and I never knew my dad,” Scanlon says, “and I’m always wondering who he was and how we were like him. That led to this idea of ‘what if you could spend one day with someone who you lost,’ which felt like a universal desire for all of us.”
After the spell goes awry and they only bring the bottom half of their father back, the brothers go on a quest to find the last item needed to bring him back completely, before their time with him is up. Along the way, Ian comes to appreciate the family he still has. “It’s about dealing with loss,” adds Rae, “but it’s also about those people around you that helped you out and buoyed you during your life and helped create you came to be.”
“Appreciate the people in your life that went above and beyond what was required of them to make you the person you are today,” Scanlon says.
It took Scanlon and Rae some time to come up with the concept of a modern fantasy world. “It went through many machinations,” Rae says, “and so there were versions of the story where the boys were scientists or something like that. It’s not like we came out of the gate and went, ‘Oh yes, they’re Elves and they live in a modern fantasy world.’”
This may have been due to their lack of prior experience with the fantasy genre. “It wasn’t really a genre that either of us were super into,” says Scanlon, “and I think that was kind of fun. Hopefully, you come at it with a slightly different angle than people who are making a film in a certain genre they were already a huge fan of. Luckily, we had tons of people on the crew who were really into fantasy, really into role-playing games, and they educated us. That was the fun of creating this movie. Suddenly you find yourself making a genre of movie you never would have dreamed in order to tell a specific story.”