Carly Mallenbaum, USA TODAY
Published 3:21 a.m. ET Feb. 19, 2020 | Updated 7:39 a.m. ET Feb. 19, 2020
Two teenage elf brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt go on a journey to spend one last day with their father in Disney’s “Onward.”
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HOLLYWOOD — At this point, cinemagoers know it’s unwise to wear mascara to a Pixar movie. But when it comes to “Onward,” the animated adventure about two elf brothers (voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) who go on a quest to reunite with their late father, the emotional ante is upped. Extra precautions must be taken.
“Bring as many tissues as you think you might need,” advises Chris Pratt. He chatted on the red carpet Tuesday before his film that goes from absurdly humorous (unicorns eat trash, a pair of disembodied legs is pulled on a retractable leash) to deeply emotional (the third act is a tearjerker), premiered at El Capitan.
“I would say four boxes.”
For Pratt, even talking about the premise of the Disney movie, in which he plays fantasy-loving older brother and mentor Barley, gets him choked up. The actor lost his father in 2014 and says his older brother Cully “in many ways raised me.”
“He’s very much a loving brother who cared very deeply about me, championed me all along the way.” Pratt says, explaining how his character in the movie is like his real-life sibling. “That’s a big, big kudos to him.”
Meanwhile, co-star Holland is the eldest of four brothers, but in “Onward” the Spider-Man star voices nervous younger brother Ian, the protagonist who wishes to meet the father who died before he was born.
“I basically play my little brother Paddy in this movie,” says Holland. “And I think Chris played his older brother. I really think we just swapped roles.”
Composers and brothers Mychael and Jeff Danna deeply connect with the main characters, too. The musicians lost their dad when they were teenagers, and say the process of scoring the film together, with its sweeping orchestral music, was “therapeutic” for their relationship, bringing up “things we hadn’t said to each other and really processed,” says Mychael.
For writer/director Dan Scanlon, the story is even more personal. He never knew his own dad, and a part of the movie where Ian listens to a recording of his father is drawn from the fact that Scanlon has an audiotape of his own father only saying two things: “Hello” and “Goodbye.”
“I think because we try to tell a personal story or an honest story, there’s going to be truths in there,” Scanlon offers.
But tugging at viewers’ heartstrings requires more than just telegraphing intimate details from a filmmaker’s life.
Scanlon explains: “When you do something that’s funny and create a character that’s funny, if you do anything to them, (the audience is) going to cry. You know what I mean?”
The premiere audience certainly learned what he meant. The screening was underscored with laughs for about 90 minutes, but then ticketholders turned quiet by the end. There were sniffles. There was eye dabbing. There was mid-scene applause. There was one of those lines of dialogue that makes you tear up even when you hear it out of context.
OK, so four boxes of tissues is perhaps an excessive amount to carry into a movie theater. But don’t see “Onward” (in theaters March 6) without at least a wad of napkins.
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