The new animated film Onward, out in theaters, follows a long line of beloved Pixar movies with the same hallmarks: dazzling visuals, heart-wrenching crusades and, most importantly, hot dads.
In the film, Wilden Lightfoot (Kyle Bornheimer) is the dead father of brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt). With a scruffy beard, bushy eyebrows and wire-frame glasses, Wilden serves outdoors-daddy John Krasinski-in-A Quiet Place realness. Suddenly we all have wood that needs to be chopped.
Pixar has a rich history of creating hot father figures. Bob Parr, a.k.a Mr. Incredible, is the buff daddy who could literally choke us all. When Lady Gaga sang, “Why’d you come around me with an ass like that?,” she was talking about Mr. Incredible. The deceased Papa in Coco is making the case for mustache twinks. There’s also the hairless twunk in Pixar’s new Disney+ short Float and Bonnie’s dad in Toy Story 4 (sorry, but he’s voiced by Jay Hernandez and they animated him like that?). I’d wager Andy’s father in the original Toy Story (who’s never seen on-screen) is an anon hottie, too.
Inside Out director Pete Docter modeled protagonist Riley and her relationship with Bill after his own daughter, Elie. That the dad is rooted in realism is integral to his charm.
Animator Jason Reisig, who co-directed the 2018 film Smallfoot, says animated characters need to be realistic enough to convince audiences to invest in the story. “They should feel familiar. Someone you want to have a conversation with,” Reisig tells MEL. “You want to make this an appealing looking character that you want to hear about.”
The Secret to a Great Pixar Dad
In many CG films, character faces are symmetrical. Reisig says it’s common to draw half a face and flip it, creating perfect jawlines, eyebrows and noses. So when there is asymmetry — like Wilden Lightfoot’s crooked right eyebrow — it’s usually intentional to add visual intrigue. Character quirks are also an attempt to avoid the “uncanny valley” effect, a phenomenon in which robots and animated characters can come off cold and eerie when they look too human. “In animation, we tend to compose things a little differently because if it feels symmetrical, it feels more artificial,” Reisig says.
There’s something about Pixar’s animation style in particular that lends itself to lust. Consider the animated characters of the show Adventure Time, which lends itself to more abstract renderings. “They’re practically smiley faces,” says Andy Ristaino, lead character designer for Adventure Time. “When you compare that to a Pixar movie, there’s definitely a lot more going into those spaces than what we’re doing.”
Most animated films are designed using a technique called ray-traced ambient occlusion, which brings a luminescence to the characters. It’s why Pixar and Dreamworks characters look like they’re glowing. Just look at refined animation between the first Toy Story film, released in 1995, and Toy Story 4 from 2019. “You can see the quality of the skin [improved] versus the ones early on,” Reisig says.
For every average Pixar dad, there are some gargantuan figures, too. In Brave, Merida’s father, King Fergus, is jubilant and hulking. Brooklyn comedian Brendan Leonard tells me Fergus is his pick for hottest Pixar dad — the giant Scot can split him in half, he says. “At points during the film, he’s literally married to a BEAR, so I know he’ll love me no matter what transformations my body goes through.” Plus, he’s turned on by Fergus’ peg leg: “He’s constantly got hard wood. My king.”
Pixar has a penchant for slim guys with scruff and often a thick mustache. In the queer community, men with this body type are called otters. For real-life otter and comedian Gabe Gonzalez, he’s starting to think Pixar is coping his look. “I’m honored that arguably hotter, animated versions of myself have inspired insatiable thirst on the internet,” he tells me. “I have two requests of Pixar: that they cut me a check and that they never put a chinstrap beard on a Hot Dad again. Give me a full ’stache or I’ll see them in court.”
What ties all Pixar films together is a focus on respectable, family-friendly storylines. It makes lusting at them all the more intriguing because the world these characters occupy is largely void of sexuality. Onward follows brothers Ian and Barley on a quest to resurrect their father for 24 hours, only to end up bringing back his legs. For some, Wilden is a tease. “He’s also torso-less for much of the movie, making those few glimpses we get of him all the more endearing,” says Remezcla film and TV editor Manuel Betancourt.
But really, the attraction is simple — even when we’re talking about a Disney ghost. You really can’t blame any of us for lusting after a guy who knows how the power of looking hot in a simple red T-shirt and chinos. “He just looks adorable,” Betancourt says. “Something about the beard-and-glasses combo. Peak Hot Dad.”