'Onward': Meet the Voices Behind the Animated Characters

9:11 PM 3/7/2020

by Christy Piña

Tom Holland and Chris Pratt go on an adventure to find the magic that's left in the world.

Courtesy of Disney

Monsters University writer-director Dan Scanlon co-wrote and directed Pixar's Onward, about two brothers who go on a quest to see if there's still magic left in the world.

After both Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) have turned 16, their mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), gives them a staff from their father, who died when they were young. With it comes a spell that allows the brothers to bring their father back for 24 hours. When Ian tries the spell and only brings back half of his father, sans upper body, the brothers embark on a journey to finish the spell before their 24 hours are up.

During the D23 Expo presentation in Anaheim in August, Scanlon explained that Onward is based on his own experience growing up. "My brother and I lost our father at a young age, and I've always wondered who my dad was and how I would like him," he said. "Those questions became the roadmap for this film."

Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Ali Wong and Lena Waithe also lend their voices to characters in the film. Spencer plays a manticore named Corey, who owns a restaurant, while Rodriguez, Wong and Waithe play police officers.

Read on to find out more about the voices behind Onward's animated characters.

  • Tom Holland as Ian Lightfoot

    Disney/Pixar; Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

    Ian Lightfoot is the shy main character of Onward. He misses his dad, who died when Ian was too young to remember him. Right after Ian's 16th birthday, his mom gives Ian and his brother, Barley, a gift from their father: a wizard's staff. In an attempt to bring his dad back to life with a magic spell, Ian accidentally only brings back the bottom half of his dad's body. On Ian and Barley's quest to get the other half of their dad back, Ian also shrinks Barley.

    Holland is best known for his portrayal of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, as well as in Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. He also lends his voice to Walter Beckett in Spies in Disguise.

  • Chris Pratt as Barley Lightfoot

    Disney/Pixar; Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

    Chris Pratt voices Ian's cool older brother, Barley, who's spending his gap year fighting the town developers and playing a role-playing game. It's Barley's beat-up van Guinevere that serves as the vehicle for the brothers' journey, as Barley encourages Ian to practice his magical skills and find a way to bring their dad back.

    Before Pratt took on the role of Star-Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, he made a name for himself on the small screen in Parks and Recreation. Since his time as Andy Dwyer on the sitcom, Pratt has taken on a number of roles, in and out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He's taken on the lead role in the Jurassic World series and can be seen in movies like Moneyball, Passengers, The Five-Year Engagement and The Magnificent Seven.  

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Laurel Lightfoot

    Disney/Pixar; Steve Granitz/WireImage

    Laurel is the boys' mom, who gives them their father's staff without knowing he was a wizard. "Your dad was an accountant," she says in the trailer, sounding shocked. Known for her award-winning starring roles in Seinfeld, Veep and The New Adventures of Old Christine, Julia Louis-Dreyfus' small-screen credits also include roles in Arrested Development, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Watching Ellie. On the big screen, she recently starred opposite Will Ferrell in Searchlight's Downhill and her other film credits include Enough Said and voice roles in Planes and A Bug's Life.

  • Octavia Spencer as Corey

    Disney/Pixar; Jerod Harris/Getty Images

    Octavia Spencer's Corey is a manticore, a mythical creature with wings and the head of a lion, who was once a brave warrior and owner of a mysterious tavern for travelers embarking on epic quests. But as modern conveniences have replaced magical quests, Corey transformed the tavern into a family-friendly restaurant. Still, the boys stop by her establishment on their journey.

    Spencer has lent her voice to a few different characters in the animation world, like Martha in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and Mrs. Otterton in Zootopia. Spencer has also taken on live-action roles in Hidden Figures, The Help, Fruitvale Station, Ma and The Shape of Water.

  • Mel Rodriguez as Officer Colt Bronco

    Disney/Pixar; Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

    Officer Colt Bronco is a centaur who's in a relationship with Laurel Lightfoot but has struggled to win over her sons. As seen in the trailer, the half-horse and half-man officer threatens to cut her sons' quest short and escort them home. Instead of once-shy Ian obeying the officer, he takes the van keys and drives off, inciting a police chase.

    Though not quite as big of a star as some of the other voices in Onward, Rodriguez has a long list of roles under his belt. He can be seen in the movies Overboard, Little Miss Sunshine, Suburban Gothic, Three Burials and The Last Thing He Wanted. Rodriguez has also had roles on TV shows like George Lopez, House of Payne, Getting On, The Last Man on Earth and, most recently, On Becoming a God in Central Florida. 

  • Lena Waithe as Officer Specter

    Disney/Pixar; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

    Lena Waithe voices Officer Specter, Pixar's first openly gay character, whose sexual orientation is revealed in a casual moment in which cyclops police officer Specter and her police sidekick, Officer Gore (Ali Wong) pull over the brothers and Specter says, “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out."

    Waithe's career has really taken off in the last few years with roles on Master of None, Dear White People and Westworld; she also starred in Ready Player One. In addition to her acting, Waithe created Showtime's The Chi and BET's Twenties and produced and penned the screenplay for Queen & Slim

  • Ali Wong as Officer Gore

    Disney/Pixar; Tibrina Hobson/FilmMagic

    Ali Wong voices Officer Gore, Specter's faun sidekick.

    Wong has made quite a name for herself in the last decade or so. She had roles on Are You There, Chelsea?, Black Box, Tuca & Bertie, Big Mouth and American Housewife. And she starred opposite Randall Park in Netflix's 2019 rom-com Always Be My Maybe, which Wong also co-wrote and produced. Most recently, Wong took on a supporting role in Birds of Prey.