There’s something strangely ... familiar about the new trailer for Pixar’s Onward. While, at first glance, an animated fantasy about two elf brothers trying to resurrect their father with a magic wand might seem like a wholly original idea, a closer look reveals some striking similarities to the 1989 comedy classic Weekend at Bernie’s.
Hear us out.
Released in late May, the teaser for Onward was filled with fantasy-meets-suburbia visual puns, but short on plot. But, after today’s full-length trailer, we now know the film follows two brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, respectively) as they attempt to correct a magic spell that only brought back the lower half of their late father. To do that, the elves fashion a fake upper body for their dad, dressing him up in a vest, hat and, notably, a pair of oversized sunglasses. They then load him into Barley’s (totally bitchin’) van, and begin a road trip wherein they lug around their father’s constantly slumping body, pretending he’s normal, full being, and not half of a ... reanimated corpse. Along the way, the wayward body accidentally incites a number of incidents and, well, high jinks ensues.
Starring 1980s mainstays Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy, Weekend at Bernie’s follows insurance salesmen Richard and Larry as they haul around their boss' dead body, manipulating his limbs and pretending he’s alive, so they can enjoy his beach house and, uh, not be murdered by the mob. And, OK, that last part probably isn’t going to be in Onward. But the rest of it ...
For starters, both Bernie and Ian and Barley’s father are seemingly boring corporate types hiding a massive secret: Bernie is an insurance executive concealing a long-running embezzlement scam, while Ian and Barley’s dad was an accountant who may have withheld that he was actually a wizard.
The brothers, meanwhile, include a goofier one in Pratt’s Barley, and a more straight-laced one in Holland’s Ian – which is exactly the same dynamic as McCarthy’s Larry and Silverman’s Richard.
Then there’s the main thrust of both films: a seemingly dead man/elf is secretly passed off as normal and alive, dressed up in oversized sunglasses and dragged around. The body keeps getting away from the boys, creating situations with strangers who are none the wiser, and ultimately getting the protagonists in trouble.
And, of course, there’s also the inherent time limits of the films. The titular “weekend” of Bernie’s is shortened to a single day of “visitation” in Onward but, still. There’s virtually no way that any of this is a coincidence.
When Onward was announced in December, director Dan Scanlon mentioned the film was based on his relationship with his own brother – with whom he grew up in the 1980s. While the film doesn’t exactly hold up today, Weekend at Bernie’s was a cinematic juggernaut at the time and played almost endlessly on cable afterward. In short, it was (probably) literally impossible for someone alive in the ‘80s not to know about the movie. (You'd be forgiven, however, if you were unaware of its less-successful 1993 sequel.)
However, it’s not only Weekend at Bernie’s that’s seemingly homaged in Onward. The new trailer shows us that there’s a little Weird Science in there, too. The way the restoration of the father’s body is framed – down to the coloring of the magic, the swirling papers, and that the newly created body is revealed in an explosion in a closet – is highly reminiscent of the 1985 John Hughes comedy.
It’s probably worth noting that Weird Science also follows two close friends, one more uptight than the other, as they mess with forces they don’t understand, create a life, and then lie about that as situations escalate and ... high jinks ensues. (Of course, Weird Science being even more problematically a product of the ‘80s, the less we say about the, uh, impetus for creating that life, the better.)
When you factor in that Onward's teaser trailer was set, at least in part, to the Cars’ 1984 hit “Magic ” and Focus' 1971 single “Hocus Pocus," which remained a radio mainstay in the ‘80s, it becomes apparent that Onward is very much a love letter to that decade. And, for better or worse, it doesn’t get more ‘80s than Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman dragging their boss’ corpse around in hopes of getting lucky.
So, OK, maybe it’s good that Onward isn’t a direct remake, after all.
Written and directed by Dan Scanlon, Pixar's Onward stars Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer. It opens in theaters on March 6, 2020.