Onward has been on digital streaming services for a week now and is set to debut on Disney+ this Friday. It is a really well-done film and has a pretty straight-forward story. That is except for its setting. Putting this very deeply personal story in a modern world that contains magic was a genius idea, and leads to many of the film's more lighthearted comedy beats. Except that we almost didn't get this version of Onward at all.
In an interview with ComicBook.com, director Dan Scanlon explained that the original idea for Onward was different:
"Initially we thought, 'Well, we want to have a story about these two brothers who get an opportunity to bring their dad back to life," Scanlon told us. "And my early version of the story was in our world and they were humans and their father was a scientist who had invented a machine that could he hoped communicate with the dead in some way, but it didn't work. And so after the dad died, the boys were scientists too and they were trying to prove that their father's machine would work. And in doing so they inadvertently brought parts of him back. And we could have gone that way. It started to feel a little episodic because they were bringing back pieces of dad, like his feet first, then his legs, then his torso. And it also just felt a little cold and clinical. And then the idea of magic as a way to bring him back felt way more romanticized and just special."
"And that led to the thought of, 'Well, we don't want to set this in some era long ago, like a lot of fantasy films are set,' and because this was such a personal modern story," he continued. "And then again, that led to the idea of what about a modern fantasy world, which got us laughing because it's ridiculous and would lead to really funny scenes. So it's kind of a long way to get there. But I think one of the things I like is the world matches Ian in some ways. The world is a place that's lost a little bit of its potential and Ian's a kid who's not living up to his potential and so you get to see both the world and Ian grow and live up to their potential together."
The magical setting of Onward is what makes the film, so to think that they had to. get there while breaking the story is mind-blowing to me. Does that mean if they had gone with the original pitch we wouldn't have had The Manticore as a character at all? That is not a world I want to live in. While I will admit that film's climax is a bit of a reach, even in a world with magic, it is certainly better than being a science experiment playing out, as it seems it was in the original concept. As Scanlon said "cold and clinical" would not have been the proper way to tell such an emotional story at all.
Catch Onward on VOD digital now, or if you are a Disney+ subscriber, you can watch it on the service starting this Friday.