‘Onward’: The Pants Used to Be Just Shoes, or More, Director and Producer Say

Pixar has made viewers fall in love with toys, bugs, monsters, fish, cars and more. Now they’ve created the most emotional pair of pants in cinema history. Onward is the touching story of elf brothers Ian (voice of Tom Holland) and Barley (voice of Chris Pratt) trying to bring their father back to life with magic. The spell only half works and they are stuck with his pants. 

Chris Pratt voices Barley in Onward
Chris Pratt voices Barley | Disney/Pixar

Writer/director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae were at a press conference in Los Angeles on Feb. 14 discussing the making of Onward. It turns out they tried a lot of different options before settling on the pants.

‘Onward’ is a personal movie for Dan Scanlon

Scanlon created Onward as a way of dealing with the loss of his own father when he was a little boy.

“Much like the characters in the movie, my father passed away when I was about a year old and my brother was three. So as I can imagine, we don’t remember him at all, but we always wondered who he was and how we were like him. That question became the seed of Onward which is what if you could meet him? What if you could have one day? What would you learn? What would you ask? Then we added elves and sprites to that story.”

Dan Scanlon, Onward press conference, 2/14/2020

‘Onward’ was a technological world before it was a magical one

While brainstorming ways for the boys of Onward to bring back their father, magic wasn’t the only option.

Onward
L-R: Ian (Tom Holland), Barley (Chris Pratt) and half of their father | Disney/Pixar

“We considered a version where the boys were scientists who built a machine that brought dad back. Magic just felt more romanticized. Then, we didn’t want to set it in an old timey fantasy world because it’s a very modern story. If these boys had all been in robes and their father was in robes, it just would’ve been ridiculous. So we thought let’s do a modern one.”

Then they discussed which half of Dad they would animate

Once the creators of Onward figured out how to bring Ian and Barley’s dad back, they had another big decision to make. Which half of their father would return?

“You’d be amazed sitting in a story room with a group of ten or 12 people having a very serious conversation about that,” Rae said. “We tried it all. We thought maybe just a pair of shoes at first I think. Then there was one version of the story where it was like shoes and then it would get something else that would create a little bit more so that he kind of grew over the course of [the movie]. It was way more disturbing.”

The pants are the emotional core of ‘Onward’

It may be funny that there’s only a pair of pants in Onward, but those pants are still special to Ian and Barley.

“We also were thinking when you are someone who knows someone, every little piece you get is special,” Scanlon said. “Certainly with my dad, every little piece of information, every little object they owned and so the idea that the boys literally have a piece of their dad that is walking around, it felt funny but also it lined up with that idea.”

Pants are a character in Onward
Tom Holland as the voice of Ian (right) | Disney/Pixar

Holland raised an eyebrow though. 

“I remember when you were pitching it though and you’re like, ‘And then there’s only half of him,’” Holland recalled. ”I remember being like, okay.”

The pants would work in live-action too

Before Onward got to animation, Pixar did a test for how pants could work on screen. Somewhere in the Pixar vaults is a test of live-action pants.

“There’s no plans on doing a live-action one,” Scanlon assured. “Although we did do tests of what it would look like with pants just walking around. We did green screen cloth over our faces and walked around with khaki pants on. I did think, ‘Yeah, we could do this live action.’”