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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.

onward

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.

onward

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.

onward

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

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Disney+ Is About To Be Your New Home For All Things Pixar

Is that a good thing?

We’re still a few months away from the full release of Disney+, a brand-new streaming service that will start at $6.99/month (with just one ad-free option, similar to Hulu). It’s like Netflix, but with tons of newer Disney and Pixar films, short films, new original content, and the entire Disney Vault.

I’ve mentioned the service plenty of times before on this site, but it’s worth reminding just how enticing this service will be for Pixar fans. Next year, Disney+ will debut Monsters at Work, a spinoff series of Monsters Inc. with some of the original voice cast returning (of course, Mike and Sully aren’t the main characters).

Upon launch, it looks like some new short form content from Pixar will debut, including Forky Asks a Question, a series of clips highlighting the confusion and curiosity behind everyone’s favorite utensil from Toy Story 4. Later, the service will release Lamp Life, a short film about what Bo Peep was up to in between Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 4. It’s probably safe to assume Disney+ will also contain Pixar’s entire collection of short films and maybe even SparkShorts.

But what about all the movies? The service will include 18 out of 21 Pixar films at launch, excluding the three most recent ones: Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, and Coco. According to Disney, those films will come along later. And there will be two more exclusive streaming series in addition to Monsters at Work, but we don’t know much about those yet.

It’s easy to compare Disney+ to Netflix, but it will probably feel more like the experience of using Hulu, especially if you pay for the version with ads. It’s also strange to see Disney fully embracing Pixar as one of its crucial content branches, perhaps on the level of Marvel and Star Wars. Their in-house-mouse animation arm is still intact of course (lest we forget the release of Frozen 2 this year), but Pixar’s healthy catalogue of beloved characters and stories is looking more and more like a contained universe of branded content Disney wants to expand even further, perhaps in an attempt to bridge the gap between entertainment for kids and adults.

And we can already see the ways in which Disney+ might be impacting Pixar as an animation studio. Toy Story 4 didn’t have a short film attached to it, breaking tradition, and though this was downplayed by the filmmakers as incidental, it’s easy to wonder if resources for short films are being stretched to other places. Pixar isn’t producing the content for these new original series, but they are contributing, apparently.

This makes me curious. Would you rather see a short film from Pixar, or a season of a Pixar-adjacent show on Disney+? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, because until we see one of these shows, any guess is as good as mine.


Which Pixar Plot Twist is the Best? (And Worst)

pixar plot twist

Pixar movies aren’t really known for having great plot twists. But there are still a few good ones here and there that we can appreciate.

So which Pixar “plot twist” is the best? This isn’t an easy question to answer, and obviously Pixar fans will spar and disagree over the top 5, let alone the very best. That said, I’ve devised my own rating system for each of Pixar’s most relevant plot twists, and to answer this question for myself, I’m breaking down the Pixar filmography movie by movie to assign these ratings and form my own conclusion accordingly.

But first, let’s define what a plot twist really is as best we can. To keep things simple, I consider a plot twist to be a radical shift in the expected outcome of the plot. Normally, we would only consider these to be plot twists if they happen closer to the end of the story, but I think a great plot twist can be revealed as early as the second act.

(Warning, this post contains spoilers for every single Pixar movie!)

Let’s begin with Pixar’s first feature-length film: Toy Story.

Go on…Which Pixar Plot Twist is the Best? (And Worst)

Cinemaholics Podcast: Our Top 10 Movies of 2017

2017

2017 is over, but we’re just getting started. I’m not usually the biggest fan of conversations over general rankings (my yearly power rankings aside), but I do find them most useful years later, when I’m trying to remember what I thought of the filmgoing landscape with some perspective. That’s why I do rankings, period, and it’s triple effective when I get to hear Top 10s from my Cinemaholics cohosts.

Our lists do feature some expected overlap, including a clear Cinemaholics “winner,” if you want to call it that. Turns out Brigsby Bear had the most collective impact on me, Will Ashton, and Maveryke Hines, and hopefully some of you awesome listeners.

Enjoy the episode, and if you just can’t wait, here are our Top 10 lists written out below.

Go on…Cinemaholics Podcast: Our Top 10 Movies of 2017

Part-Time Characters: Un Poco Loco for Pixar’s Coco

coco1

The One Where Jon Negroni Chimes In

It is that time of year when Pixar brings us an original animated movie and as expected, we all went un poco loco for Coco. Joined by our ‘general manager’ or  better  known  as  that Pixar Theory Guy, Jon Negroni, we discuss the film’s design, music and characters.  We start off the episode with a quick game of Lightning Round where we ask the question: What is your favorite Pixar character?

Go on…Part-Time Characters: Un Poco Loco for Pixar’s Coco

Cinemaholics Review: Pixar’s Coco

Coco

Coco is yet another major success for Pixar both critically and financially, and over Thanksgiving break we took some time on the podcast to review the film with special guest Matt Donato. We started the show with some discussion over the recent John Lasseter scandal and how that might affect (or have affected) the production of Toy Story 4. And we did find time to get into some spoilers for Coco with proper warning, of course.

In our packed Mini Review segment, Will Ashton and Matt Donato spoke at length about The Disaster Artist, the new A24 film starring James Franco, Dave Franco, and Seth Rogen. Will had a chance to finally share his thoughts on Darkest Hour, which is set to secure Gary Oldman an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. I managed to sneak in my thoughts on Star Wars Battlefront II, pointing out how some plot details in the campaign may pave the way for details in the upcoming movies. Lastly, Donato discussed his spontaneous thoughts on I Love You Daddy, the Louis C.K. film that has been dropped by the distributor, as well as The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro’s latest film being both praised and ostracized for its polarizing material.

Go on…Cinemaholics Review: Pixar’s Coco

Cinemaholics Review: Justice League and The Punisher Season 1

Justice

Is Justice League the last comic book movie of 2017? If so, what a bizarre ending to one of the most bizarre years in comic book movie history (at least in recent years). What should have been the biggest comic book movie since, well, The Avengers, has arrived with little-to-no fanfare, but we’re here to judge the movie on its own, removed from any hype it may attempt to earn by merit of its seven icons.

I’m joined this week by my trusty cohosts Will Ashton and Maveryke Hines, but also special guest Craig Hanks from the Legendarium Podcast. You may remember I guested on that show to talk about The Dark Tower back in August, and per the holy podcast networking laws hiding in plain sight, it’s only fair to have Craig on this week to share his thoughts on Justice League, the DCEU, and where this frenetic franchise is headed next.

Aside from Justice League, we talk about The Punisher Season 1, plus some new movies you might be interested in. Pixar’s Coco (full review next week), Last Flag Flying, and Wonder get a few minutes each, and we finished out the show with some banter about new movies to come over the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Go on…Cinemaholics Review: Justice League and The Punisher Season 1

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