Pixar's Onward director hopes film can bring 'some joy' during coronavirus lockdown
Fate had not been kind to Pixar's Onward.
Monsters Inc. director Dan Scanlon developed the film over several years with a story inspired by his own familial loss. It finally hit theaters March 6, but then the coronavirus pandemic upended the entire film industry and forced movie theaters to close down. Now, with Onward getting a surprise early bow on Disney+ after an earlier drop as a digital release in light of the crisis, Scanlon hopes the film can serve a different purpose as much of the world has been encouraged to self-isolate at home.
"Given the situation, it's wonderful to be able to share the movie and have people see the film, and give some entertainment and hopefully some joy and distraction from all that's going on," the filmmaker tells EW over the phone. "It's been wonderful on Twitter and social media, seeing images of families watching the movie. They've been sending me wonderful messages about how much they enjoyed the movie and how much it meant to them during this time. So, yeah, I think given everything, we're happy that people are seeing the film and that the people who are seeing it are enjoying it."
Featuring the voices of Marvel movie stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, Onward envisions a fantastical world of elves, manticores, and centaurs that has embraced the trappings of modernity. But underneath the delightful sights of a pixie motorcycle gang and unicorns becoming the new neighborhood pests is a story rooted in reality.
Scanlon lost his father as a child, before he was even old enough to remember him. In Onward, brothers Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt) are given an opportunity the director could never have: A wizard's staff gifted posthumously to his sons on Ian's 16th birthday allows them to cast a spell that will resurrect their dad for 24 hours. But the spell backfires and conjures only their dad's bottom half — that is, a pair of legs with a glowing blue patch above the waist. And so the brothers embark on a quest to assemble the necessary materials to complete the enchantment.
Onward was only in U.S. theaters for a couple weeks before the coronavirus situation seemed to pause life itself. "Luckily, the folks that did see it in theaters are very vocal about the experience that they had," Scanlon says. "To me, it's just been so wonderful that at least the people seeing it at home are having a similar experience, because it is a film about appreciating the family that you have and the people that you have and making the best of what you have. It's been great hearing that this has been helpful."
Onward isn't the only film that's been affected. Disney decided to postpone a number of its biggest 2020 releases, including Black Widow and Mulan. Unlike Onward, those titles hadn't yet hit theaters when they were pulled from the schedule. It's unclear what will happen when the dust finally settles, but Scanlon hopes more people will eventually get to see his years-long efforts on the big screen.
"I do know that there were some markets where the film wasn't released yet that have been pushed," he notes. "So my hope is that when theaters open in those markets that haven't released the film yet, that it'll get a wide release and hopefully they'll have an opportunity to see it in theaters. We're excited about that."
Onward is currently available on VOD and will hit Disney+ on April 3.
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