By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—They were brothers in arms trying to defeat Thanos in “Avengers: Endgame.” Chris Pratt played space adventurer Peter Quill/Star-lord and Tom Holland was Peter Parker suited up as Spider-Man. The actors now play squabbling elf siblings that embark on a quest in the Disney Pixar animated feature “Onward,” opening Friday March 6.
Pratt voices ebullient slacker Barley Lightfoot to Holland’s shy and awkward younger brother, Ian Lightfoot, who live with their widowed mother in an elfin suburb of a land that once was magical. Teenager Ian never knew his father, who died when he was a baby. He’s only heard stories about him from his older brother. When the boys’ mother presents them with a letter and gift that their late father wanted them to have on Ian’s 16th birthday, Ian sees this as an opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to do—get his father’s guidance. Equipped with a magical spell, a mysterious staff and a special gem, the boys attempt to conjure their late father, but the spell malfunctions. Only half of their dad, Wilden (voiced by Bryan Cranston), appears from the waist down, making communication all but impossible. The gem breaks during the incantation so the boys head out in Barley’s old van to find a replacement. They only have 24 hours before the entire spell wears off and their dad disappears forever. So, with a “Weekend-at-Bernie’s”-type makeover of their dad, the boys embark on an adventure that will test their mettle and bring about self-reflection about their relationship.
The animated adventure was written and directed by Dan Scanlon, who lost his own father as a young child.
“The story is inspired by my own relationship with my brother,” he says. “He’s always been a mystery to us. A family member sent us a tape recording of him saying just two words: “Hello” and “Goodbye.” Two words. But to my brother and me—it was magic.”
Like with most Disney Pixar movies, “Onward” is geared towards audiences of all ages and likely will tug at the heartstrings as well as take them on a journey filled with humorous supporting characters and end with some valuable life lessons. One supporting character that’s been getting a lot of buzz is Disney Pixar’s first gay character, Officer Specter, a cyclops police officer, voiced by gay actress Lena Waithe. Other actors part of the voice cast includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, John Ratzenberger and Mel Rodriguez.
At a press conference where Pratt and Holland sat on what Pratt described as an uncomfortable couch, the duo spoke about voicing the characters for the Disney Pixar film, being onscreen brothers and their own relationship with their own siblings.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your characters and how you related to them.
Holland: It’s interesting because I’m the oldest brother of four and Chris is the youngest brother of two, so we’re kind of switched (in this). I play the younger brother and he plays the older brother so it’s kind of nice for us to make that switch. Of course, Chris and I were so close already before we came onto this film, it was almost like we were just playing ourselves. The similarities between Ian and myself go back to when I was 12 or 13 (when) I was a little bit of an introvert. I was a very nervous kid and I had a hard time at school. It wasn’t until I went on this (professional acting) adventure that was “Billy Elliott” that I came out of my shell and became more confident and believed in myself. What drew me so much to this character is that we get to see that entire journey that I went on as a kid in him throughout this film, so I was really happy to pour my life experiences into this process, and I’m really delighted and thrilled with where we got to.
Pratt: One thing I really liked in seeing the film was a note that Dan (Scanlon) gave me which was against my own instinct, but I’m very glad that we went with what he wanted to on this, which was Barley was never jealous of the fact that he didn’t have the magic gift. To me, and I didn’t realize it until I saw the movie, was something very similar to my own relationship with my brother in which I was (like) the Ian, the younger brother and my brother was Barley. My brother always wanted to be an actor. He was an actor. He did plays. The first time I ever saw my mom cry was watching him do a play. He was Boo Bear in the first grade in a Christmas play and I was like, “Wow, that’s amazing. Being an actor is awesome. I want to be an actor.”
My brother did all these assemblies in high school so I followed in his footsteps and I did all the assemblies. He went in the army and didn’t become an actor, but I became an actor. There is a moment (in the film) where Barley realized that Ian has this gift and he comes in. I was like, “Do you think Barley wishes he had the magic gift because he’s the one who loves magic. He wasn’t able to do (the spell) but his younger brother was?” But I think (his lack of jealousy) is really the heart of the film. He just loves his brother so much and just so proud of him that he’s been given this gift.
When I saw that in the movie, it made me really appreciate how my brother was with me because, my whole life and during my career, he has only been super encouraging and positive about what I’ve been able to do as an actor. That’s what makes this brotherhood and this relationship so special.
The reason why is it celebrates the love between two brothers and that brotherhood. It’s often not what you see in movies. But the truth is brothers love each other, so I loved that and I identify probably more with Ian in terms of my own relationship with my brother. I really love that moment and I’m glad (Dan Scanlon) stuck with that. His instinct was right on. Dan is always right. Brothers love each other.
Q: What was it like for you, Tom, to enter the world of Pixar for the first time?
Holland: For every young actor, you set yourself goals and I have mine that I’ve set out since I was a kid and they’re still the same today and one of them was being in a Pixar movie. So, when (the filmmakers) were kind enough to fly to London to meet me and tell me your stories and pitch me the movie, this is the first time anyone had come to me. It’s amazing. So it was a very easy decision. You don’t say no to Pixar. The nicest thing about it is they have this kind of family feel that Marvel also has and we were welcomed into this wonderful family with open arms and it was such an amazing process. I still can’t believe that this film is about to come out. It feels like yesterday that we started working on it. So, I’m super pumped to see it.
Q: If you could bring someone back who has passed on for one day, who would it be?
Holland: My grandad, Bob. He never actually met his dad. His dad passed away when he was eighteen months so I would bring back my great grandfather so my grandad would have the opportunity to meet his dad.
Pratt: I would probably bring back my dad who passed away just before “Guardians of the Galaxy” came out. Then I would show him “Guardians of the Galaxy” and if he didn’t like it, we’d bring back a known criminal to beat him up on Instagram Live. It could become popular but if my dad didn’t like “Guardians of the Galaxy”, all right, you can go back to heaven.
Q: Ian is afraid to learn to drive in this. What was your learning to drive experience?
Pratt: A good thing that I learned right when I was learning to drive is that the chunk of cement closest to your house connects to every major monument in this country through a system of roads. Whatever cement your driveway connects to a road that connects to another road that connects to a highway and with enough gas money and an automobile you can see Mount Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, you can see Yellowstone, the White House, you can go down to the Florida Keys, you can sneak through Montana in about 17 days. This is a great, beautiful country and it was designed to be driven across. (You don’t have) to drive in the city but don’t sleep on getting behind the wheel and just exploring this country. We used to road trip everywhere. It’s America. It’s the big, wide frontier and you can literally get anywhere if you have enough gas money. That was the best PSA for the DMV I’ve ever heard.
Q: This movie tells kids to get out and explore and find the magic and not just sit in front of a screen. Do you agree with that message?
Holland: The film is called “Onward” and the only way to go onward is to look forward and you can’t look forward if you’re looking at your phone. For me, like I’ve deleted my Instagram to Disney’s dismay. The film is kind of a metaphor for looking outwards. The world is an amazing place, a beautiful place. Experience it through your own eyes, not through someone else’s Instagram account.
Q: What did your own brothers teach you or what did you teach them that you’ve brought into the movie?
Holland: How to be gracious losers when they lose at golf. I’m a terrible loser. They’ve learned what not to do from their big brother.
Pratt: I could list for days the things that I’ve learned from my brother but it’s hard for me to think of anything I may have taught him. I’m going to call him and have him tell me the things. (When we were boys), I would literally wear his clothes the day after he wore them. I would pick them up off of his floor and put his clothes on because he had nice-smelling cologne and he had style. He knew how to match his clothes and stuff. I still don’t know how to that. I remember when we started going to the same school and I caught up in age and I was a freshman when he was a junior and his friends started to notice, and he kindly said, “Hey man. I think you need to stop wearing my clothes the day after me because my friends are noticing that.” My first instinct is to say, “Be yourself. Be comfortable with who you are.” He told me that all the time so I can’t think of anything I know that he didn’t teach me. I’d have to ask him (what I taught him), but he’ll probably say, “Nothing.”