As the latest in Pixar’s long list of heartwarming animations, Onward is filled with clever nods, in-jokes, callbacks and secrets. In this post, we’re taking a look at Onward’s Best Easter Eggs, References, and Cameos.
Onward begins with a narrated scene that explains how the once magical world was filled with wizards, orcs, elves, and heroes. One scene during the montage is extremely reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. Specifically, thanks to a wizard with a long white beard who dressed in all grey and has a very pointy hat, who looks a lot like Gandalf.
Dungeons and Dragons
The game Quests of Yore that Chris Pratt’s Barley is obsessed with bears a striking similarity to something in-between Dungeons and Dragons and Magic the Gathering. Quests of Yore is complete with collectable cards, adventure campaigns, and dice rolls. The game plays a huge part in the movie and according to Barley is based on the actual history of Onward’s world.
Barley’s Unicorn themed van is named Guinevere, which was the name of King Arthur Pendragon’s wife in the mythological stories about Arthur and the knights of the round table. In the legends, Guinevere famously had an affair with Arthur’s most trusted knight, Lancelot. Guinevere was played by Kiera Knightly 2004’s King Arthur, and by Angel Coulby in the BBC series Merlin.
As well as Gandalf, another Lord of the Rings nod comes with the restaurant “Burger Shire”, which refers to the home of the Hobbits “The Shire”. Cementing the reference is a sign explaining that the Burger Shire now serves “second breakfast”. (a favourite of hobbits)
Sword and the Scone
One of the restaurants in New Mushroomton which is another homage to Arthurian legend and the Sword in the Stone, the aptly named “Sword and the Scone”.
In the Manticore’s Tavern, multiple wait staff can be seen wearing pointy blue hats decorated with stars and moons. This is a reference to Mickey Mouse’s appearance in 1940’s Fantasia as Sorcerer Mickey.
The iconic Pixar Luxo ball first showed up the company’s original animated short Luxo Jr. Since then the instantly recognisable ball has appeared in nearly every Pixar project. In Onward the ball can be seen in the Manticore’s tavern.
One of Disney, Pixar, and the entire movie industry’s biggest Easter eggs is A113. The number refers to a classroom at the iconic CalArts animation school where many Disney animators and the likes of Brad Bird, James Mangold and Tim Burton were educated in the various arts of cinema and filmmaking. A113 has appeared in almost every Pixar movie, but gets a unique nod in Onward. During a chase, one of the police officers reposts an “a 113 in progress”.
When Ian is listening to the tapes of his father near the beginning of the movie there is a calendar on the wall. The image on his calendar looks just like the woods in Pixar’s 2012 feature, Brave. Also, on the map Ian and Barley later get from the Manticore, there is a place is called “The Brave Wilderness”, which is next to the very Scottish sounding. “Loch Lake”, both of which feel like subtle nods to Brave.
Triple Dent Gum
A recent addition to Pixar’s long list of recurring brands like Buy N’ Large, Dinoco, and of course Pizza Planet is Triple Dent Gum. The brand featured prominently in Inside Out and again in Cars 3. The gum makes a return in Onward as the Fairy gang, known as the Pixie Dusters (which could be a nod to Peter Pan), terrorise the gas station.
There is a clear parallel between Tom Holland and Chris Pratt’s Onward characters Ian and Barley, and their MCU characters Peter Parker and Peter Quill. Both Peter Parker and Ian Lightfoot are awkward teenagers who just want to fit in, and are defined by great loss in their past, and have extraordinary abilities. Similarly, Quill and Barley both failed to properly say goodbye to their dying parent as seeing them in the hospital bed was too much, both named their vehicle after a woman (Guenivere and ’the Milano’ after Alyssa Milano), and both have a soft spot for mixtapes tapes playing whilst they drive.
Another MCU reference comes with Barley’s jacket, with a patch saying Hydra. This doubles as a reference to the mythical creature and sinister Marvel organisation that Captain America takes on in the movies and comics. Another of his patches also looks like the Infinity Gauntlet.
Rounding out any treasure hunting adventure movie is a subtle homage to Indiana Jones, and Onward makes sure to fit one in. After Ian, Barley, and their father’s legs, work their way through the various traps that they hope will lead them to the gem, the scene ends with them leaping through a closing door only to have to reach back in and grab their father’s legs. The scene mirrors the much-homaged scene where Indy has to reach back for his hat.
Often named Pixar’s “good luck charm” John Ratzenberger appears in every Pixar film since his debut as Hamm in Toy Story. In Onward Ratzenberger is one of the construction workers attempting to get Barley away from the ancient monument.
Back to the Future
The end of the movie shows Ian and Barley closer than ever, both having grown as individuals and as brothers after their adventure. Ian, who is embracing his adventurous side, as Barley had always wanted, enchants Guinevere II so that she can fly. The scene itself, but specifically the camera angles and framing are very reminiscent of the closing scenes of Back to the Future, and the iconic “where we’re going, we don’t need roads” scene.
The most famous recurring brand inside Pixar’s world is Pizza Planet. After it’s debut in 1995’s Toy Story Pizza Planet, its logo, and the iconic Pizza Planet truck have appeared all over Pixar movies. Although Pizza Planet doesn’t show up in Onward a more appropriate “Pizza Realm” does. The slightly altered Pizza restaurant features throughout the film and in the promotional poster.