The Pixar Theory: How ‘Onward’ Fits In The Pixar Universe

onward

When the first trailer for Onward dropped, I was immediately hit with a flood of questions about how it could possibly share the same universe as all of the other Pixar films from Toy Story to Coco. As soon as I watched the trailer, I had more than a few ideas and predictions, but I of course wanted to wait and see the film for myself before drawing any conclusions. Well, that time has come.

In case you’re new here, The Pixar Theory is a fan project I started back in 2013 in an effort to connect all of the Pixar films through a single, all-encompassing timeline. Since then, the theory has really taken off and I always get a real kick out of the branching theories people come up with and contribute to this site and elsewhere. The idea is simple: every Pixar film, according to this theory, exists in the same universe. Going deeper they share a strong narrative about what it means to be human in a world where anything is possible, including the apocalypse. Fun right?

I published a book called The Pixar Theory in 2015, which fleshed the whole fan theory out in a more meticulous fashion. But a couple of years ago, the book switched publishers, and I went to work revamping the theory into a brand new book that will include plenty more Pixar films, including Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, Coco, and soon, Onward (maybe Soul, too, which comes out in June).

But I don’t want to keep fans of the theory waiting long. Though I’ll certainly need more time to finalize the Onward chapter of the theory with all of the easter eggs and narrative connections you’d expect, I can at least give a sneak preview right now into where Onward fits in the timeline, plus maybe a few extra details.

onward

Don’t worry. I’m not spoiling any of the story elements of Onward. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you can keep reading without having to worry about having any surprises ruined for you. But you will get a sneak peek into the world of Onward and what it’s like on a basic level.

Directed by Dan Scanlon (Monsters University), Onward is about two brothers who go on a quest to find a magical gem that will bring their late father back to life for one, single day. You see, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) never got a chance to even meet his father, who died right before he was born. His brother Barley (Chris Pratt) only has a handful of memories about their dad, because he too was very young when this tragic event took place.

Here’s the catch. These brothers aren’t human, and the world they live in has more in common with “Dungeons & Dragons” than it does a world like ours today. Ian and Barley are elves, and the opening of the film explains that their world once contained many of the fantasy elements (like magic and dragons) that we’d see in a book written by J.R.R. Tolkien. The big difference is that there are no humans whatsoever in this world, not even in the visual history shown onscreen. And all of these fantastical creatures like unicorns, gnomes, trolls, and centaurs discovered the modern conveniences of electricity and indoor plumbing all on their own, making their world a parallel to the human one of 2020.

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The premise is a fun one. We get to see these traditionally old-school fantasy characters living in a modern world with cities, freeways, and themed restaurants. But lurking in the background is a hint of the magic that was once commonplace, only to be replaced by the perceived convenience of lightbulbs and automobiles. Centaurs don’t need to run 70MPH anymore because they have, well, cars.

So…how does this work for a Pixar movie? You might be wondering how it’s possible for a modern version of “Middle Earth” to exist anywhere close to the same one containing superheroes and Andy’s toys. This world has two moons, even! Is it another planet? Another dimension? What’s the deal?

THE DEAL.

Onward takes place in a section of the Pixar Theory timeline we’ve been curious about for years: in between the events of WALL-E and Monsters Inc. (also A Bug’s Life, which is shortly after WALL-E). As you may remember from the original theory, WALL-E ends with the humans of Earth returning home after centuries of being in space aboard the Axiom. While gone, the cars of Cars roamed the planet until running out of fossil fuels. But we’ve had little to go on when it comes to how humans were replaced with “monsters,” the animal-hybrid creatures who have their own modern society allowing them to go back in time to steal human energy (or…magic?) from the emotions of children, as we see in Monsters Inc.

Monsters University shows us that the monsters have been honing their scaring skills since at least 1313, when the university itself was founded. Onward hints at what this time might’ve been like for these diverse creatures, which aren’t very dissimilar to monsters. Remember, the timeline was reset for these creatures at some point in the far future, so 1313 for them would be thousands of years in the future for us.

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Simply put, the monsters of Monsters Inc. and Monsters University are part of the same society as the fantasy creatures we see in Onward. In Onward, we only get to know a small corner of this world, and it likely takes place many years before Monsters University, because it still contains many remnants of folklore, like wizards. But the Monsters films show us Monstropolis, which is more similar to a human society with little hint to the past. That’s because their world is more closely influenced by human society, as this is where Monsters Inc. is located, so this part of the world has a close connection to the human world of the past, which may have influenced the customs of this particular city.

For all we know, many of the towns and cities outside of Monstropolis are more similar to the one we see in Onward, which is clearly located closer to where magic was at its strongest. Put another way, Monstropolis resembles America because of its “new world” energy. But in Europe, it’s easier to find historical landmarks closely tied to the legacy of the past, which we see laid out a few times in Onward.

Of course, there are plenty more clues to consider and dissect. We see in Onward that magic does still exist, like the magic we see in Brave, in fact. The elements of the dead coming back to life are an obvious callback to how Day of the Dead works in Coco, and at various points in the movie, you could consider the magical action seen onscreen as something out of The Incredibles. The running theme, however, is that these powers are governed by emotion. In order for elves to perform magic effectively, they have to use their “heart’s fire” as a means of channeling magic. And as we see in the movie, only elves and other humanoid creatures appear to have the ability to use any kind of magic at all, hinting at the possibility that they are in fact the descendants of the humans who were aboard the Axiom and “re-inherited” the Earth.

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Humans are batteries in the Pixar universe. Their emotions can power toys, cars, and entire cities ( as seen in Toy Story, Cars, and Monsters Inc., respectively) But what happened to them after WALL-E and A Bug’s Life, when there were barely any humans to be found? Well, it’s possible they gradually changed into a new species, or bred into what would eventually be known as elves. And over time, they’d die out all the same, because we learn in Onward that not all elves have “the gift” of using magic. Eventually this ability would apparently disappear completely, forcing “monsters” to go back in time to harvest the energy needed to power their world. Perhaps these creatures evolved into scary monsters out of necessity, because it would be the only way for them to effectively scare children for centuries, weeding out all of the “nice-looking” creatures in favor of the scarier ones.

That’s not to say some of the creatures of Onward are helpless unless they have some connection to the humans of the past. Dragons breathing fire and pixies being able to fly can be easily compared to the heightened abilities of some monsters, like Randall, who can turn invisible. But when it comes to outright magic, the source always seems to come back to humans.

There’s a lot more to figure out with Onward, like why there are two moons, as opposed to just one. I have a few theories about this, but I’d like to see the film a couple more times to finalize my thoughts on how this is possible. It’ll also be fun to revisit the Monsters Inc. movies to find more direct comparisons between the world of Onward and the one where we meet Mike and Sulley. I’ll also be scouring the film for more easter eggs and cameos revealing all of the clues we’ve come to expect from these movies, so please stay tuned for the new and improved book, The Pixar Theory. I promise it’ll be worth the wait.

Before we part, I definitely want to praise the incredible work of Dan Scanlon and the fine folks at Pixar who did an incredible job making Onward. It’s as wonderful and heartwarming as many of Pixar’s other recent work, like Inside Out and Coco. The core message of the film pertains to brotherhood and how memories carry us through tragedy and toward the adventures of the future. I hope you all like crying in public, because yes, this is another Pixar tearjerker. I simply can’t wait to see it again and again.


Thanks for reading this. Be sure to say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

All images courtesy of Disney/Pixar

38 thoughts on “The Pixar Theory: How ‘Onward’ Fits In The Pixar Universe

  1. It’s amazing how far The Pixar Theory has come. Would it be a good idea to wait for Soul to come out so that it doesn’t feel like it’s been left out from the Second Edition, as well as it will be awhile for the next Pixar film to come out? I mean if you do wait you could check out other theories in the meantime, to see if there’s something interesting to consider. I’ve heard of some pretty good ones by the youtuber known as the Theorizer. It just a thought.

    • This whole childhood-ruining Pixar Theory nonsense has gone too far and way too stupid at this point. The Cars movies were never really connected to other Pixar films because they were all taking place in an alternate universe. So does Onward. That’s why I’m trying to set things straight here right now, because as indicated through the Toy Story 4 commentary the Pixar Theory was clearly DENIED the whole time; it was NEVER CONFIRMED. Also, I’m tired of me and the other de-bunkers constantly getting bashed for pointing out the various FLAWS contained within…

  2. REALLY, NEGRONI?! YOU DON’T BELIEVE ONWARD IS TAKING PLACE IN ITS OWN ALTERNATIVE/PARALLEL UNIVERSE ENTIRELY SEPERATED FROM MOST OTHER PIXAR FILMS JUST BECAUSE OF THERE BEING TWO MOONS IN THE SKY?! YOU ACTUALLY THINK YOU’RE JUST GOING TO KEEP RUINING BOTH THE REAL EMOTIONS AND LAUGHTER OF EVERY LAST FUTURE PIXAR FILM BEING RELEASED AS WELL AS OUR CHILDHOODS IN FAVOR OF DARK AND DEPRESSING HORRIBLE THEORIES ABOUT UPRISINGS AND TIME-TRAVEL WHICH NEVER REALLY DID HAPPEN IN THE FIRST PLACE?! DID YOU NOT ACTUALLY LISTEN TO THE PART IN THE TOY STORY 4 COMMENTARY WHICH TALKED ABOUT PUTTING ALL THOSE EASTER EGGS IN THE ANTIQUE STORE AND MENTIONING AN OBSCURED BOOK TITLE ALL AS PART OF A GOAL TO DESTORY YOUR STUPID FAN THEORY?! HAVE YOU NOT PAYED ATTENTION TO THE FACT THAT THIS THEORY WAS DENIED RATHER THAN CONFIRMED FOR YEARS NOW SINCE ITS FIRST EXISTENCE?! OR HAVE YOU DRIFTED SO FAR INTO CLICKBAIT-VILLE THAT YOU CAN’T EVEN BEAR TO GO ANY ONE SINGLE DAY/WEEK/MONTH/YEAR WITHOUT PORFITING OFF THAT STUPID FAN THEORY OF YOURS?! AS A DE-BUNKER MYSELF I MUST SAY AND POINT OUT ONCE AND FOR ALL THAT I AM SICK AND TIRED OF YOU AND ALL THOSE OTHER IGNORANT FAN THEORISTS CONSTANTLY BASHING AND MAKING FUN OF US FOR TRYING TO POINT OUT EVERY SINGLE FLAW, AND WE ARE ALSO TIRED OF HEARING YOUR LAME EXCUSES SUCH AS “YOU JUST DON’T GET IT” AND/OR “IT’S JUST FOR FUN”! SO NOW THE TIME HAS COME FOR YOU AND SUPERCARLINBROTHERS AND SEAMUS GORMAN AND MATPAT AND CRACKED.COM AND ALL YOU OTHER FAN THEORISTS OUT THERE TO STOP ACTING LIKE EVERY SINGLE PIXAR FILM IS CONNECTED BECAUSE THEY’RE OBVIOUSLY NOT, AND ALSO FOR YOU AND THOSE SAME OTHERS TO APOLOGIZE TO EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOUR VIEWERS/READERS FOR TRICKING THEM AND DECIVEING THEM LIKE THIS AND THAT BECAUSE I’M NOT THAT EASILY FOOLED! I AM WAY SMARTER THAN YOU THINK ON THIS ORDEAL, SO JUST LISTEN TO ME WHEN I SAY: I’VE. HAD. ENOUGH! OKAY?! GOT IT?! GOOD! BECAUSE IF YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING TO JUST LET YOUR STUPID FAN THEORY PROFITS CONTINUE ON LIKE THIS, YOU’RE WRONG! PLAIN WRONG! ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY WRONG! YOU THINK THAT YOU CAN CONNECT THESE THINGS JUST FOR FUN, BUT YOU ARE WRONG! SO LET ME GET THIS THROUGH YOUR HEADS RIGHT NOW: I’VE. HAD. ENOUGH! LIKE IT OR NOT, YOU ARE GOING TO STOP PROFITING OFF THIS STUPID FAN THEORY OF YOURS AND START LISTENING TO US DE-BUNKERS AND YOU WILL ALSO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT THE PIXAR THEORY HAS BEEN DENIED THE WHOLE TIME SO THEREFORE IT ISN’T TRUE; AND UNTIL YOU FIGURE THAT OUT, YOU CAN JUST GET USED TO ME LEAVING COMMENTS ABOUT HOW WRONG YOU PEOPLE ARE TO BELIVE SUCH A THING EVERY DAY!

    • It’s for fun you dense dumbfuck

    • Go away. Seriously. No one actually wants you here. No one will miss you. And here’s a thought: If you hate this person’s content and all those other people’s content so much that it paints their entire livlihood and work as worthless and terrible content, then DON’T WATCH/VIEW their content!!! You are honestly just looking for a reason to go off at someone and that’s done.

    • Do you even deserve the title of TheTruePixarFanatic? Would YOU like someone criticizing YOUR opinions on the films you love? Do you seriously only visit this website so you can criticize the opinions of fellow Pixar lovers? Each person has the right to believe what they want. I kindly ask you to back off for the sake of all fans. Because you’re a fan, aren’t you?

  3. Holy crap, some of these comments are aweful. No one is forcing you guys to read this theory. They’re just movies, calm down and let us have fun with these movies. Jon Negroni, keep it up, I love your work, ignore these haters.

  4. Aw man,you are really angry for just such little things.
    So I am clearing out some things for you.

    Firstly I am saying that any of you who is trying to debunk such a well placed theory like this is wrong himself.

    Secondly,I am saying that the Pixar Theory is not ruining anybody’s childhood. It does not debunk any of the lessons they show us.

    And thirdly,Negroni is not profiting out of it,he is helping other theorists profit too.

  5. Yeah,you’re right. Keep up your good work and ignore the haters.

  6. What is Onward came before every thing

    • Possibly, but the main character Ian had a phone and headphones ,they also had a Television in their home.

      • Ya but what if something happened where the Human Race had to Start all over

  7. Wait i’m confused now… is Onward after monsters inc? Someone please tell me what timeline Onward is in! D:

    • I think he said after Wall-E but before Monsters. It’ll probably help when he gets his new book out though, to clear up a lot of the confusion. There’s a lot of questions I have, like how death in Coco, Brave, and Soul all connect to each other, because each gives a different interpretation. It’ll be fun to see what happens. 😀

  8. This theory is like Jesus and God, who wants, believes, who doesn’t its just move on! People get to insane at the internet!

    But for now, I just really want the book! I’m in quarantine and really need some fun distraction.

  9. I had exactly the same thought, but upon watching monsters inc back, I noticed in a quick snippet in the commercial of monsters inc, there shows only 1 moon. If onward is before monsters, where did the second moon go? It being after face problems of monsters being so built up and then onward population starting from a less built up world? I’m genuinely trying to make it work, hence my questions to help iron out plot holes in the theory,

  10. My idea is that the movie takes place in a new timeline that started when Boo travelled back to medieval Scotland. After introducing futuristic magic to the Middle Ages, she ended up changing the past so that magic creatures could form. As for the moons, let’s just say that someone used magic to split the moon

  11. Pizza planet truck behind toll booth when they were heading to Manticore’s

  12. I like the detail and thoroughness of this Pixar theory. I feel like am late to the party, I just found this website. I book marked this site so I can keep up from now on. Looking forward to what you have to say about Soul later this year. https://featuredanimation.com/upcoming-animated-movies/

  13. According to the theory from SuperCarlinBrothers it might be another planet where one of the Axiums crashlanded and eventually overtime as nature grew became the mountain named Raven’s Point

    • I watched that video as well as it gives an explanation to why there are two moons, I like both ideas and I’m excited for the book to come out and anyone who hasn’t watched SuperCarlinBrothers should definitely check out their channel they put out some great interesting content.

  14. after introducing futuristic magic to the Middle Ages, she ended up changing the

  15. I appreciate your splendid work if you want to get Hollywood and Bollywood movies related information or you want to know movies downloading websites then you can visit on my blog whose name is bollyquick.com

  16. Do you think Jon actually reads these

  17. Does Jon actually read these

  18. In Onward, there’s also more evidence of a “relationship” between magic/wood, even with just a little! Something this theory (and Jon’s old book/story The Pixar Detective 😍) had already pointed out about doors, trees, Brave’s witch owning a carver “shop” and so on hehe. Greetings all the way from Brazil 😘 sorry for my bad english

  19. These are a great series of articles that I enjoy following on your site. Appreciate the effort that goes behind this reporting too. Thanks. What else is interesting is the start ups for Germany and the UK. I follow those on Business Insider they include bio’s on the leadership. Their is some great people doing incredible things.
    backwards-3

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