Onward: A Film Review

Film Reviews

Have you ever wondered if magic and mythical creatures existed what would the world look like? Would it be a place of wonder and adventure? If humans did not exist, what would the world look like then? In Pixar’s Onward, these questions are explored and some answers are given.

Released in March 2020, the movie follows two elven brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, on their unexpected quest to see their father again. Ian is a shy jumpy sixteen-year-old while Barley is the elder brother who is sure of himself and always looking out for his younger brother. Their father passed away of what is presumedly a type of disease like cancer before Ian is born and when Barley was a young toddler. On Ian’s sixteenth birthday, he and Barley receive a gift left for them by their father years ago. It is a wizard’s staff with a note that says,

Long ago the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous, exciting, and full of magic. And that magic helped all in need. Overtime magic faded away, but I hope there’s a little magic left in you.

The movie itself was an interesting take on a classic fantasy adventure. Set in a suburban fantasy world where elves, unicorns, centaurs, mermaids, and other creatures exist, it has an oddly familiar feeling as you watch it. Maybe it was the voice acting of stars like Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer, that had the familiarity. Or it could be the way the story played out as essentially a road trip movie. I believe it had to be a combination of the two above mixed with a little Pixar magic and wonder.

One praise I would like to give is the comedy used. In most modern children’s films, potty humor, such as fart jokes, is overly used. Movies such as Boss Baby and Trolls are good examples of the overused toilet humor in children’s movies. Potty humor has its place, but the overuse is fairly typical in children’s films because they cause for a cheap laugh as if children would not get a more complex comedy. However, in Onward, Pixar does not use any of that type of humor that I found on the one watching. This film has a more subtle hit of comedy as an example in one scene. Ian and Barley’s mother gets a phone call from her fiancé who is a centaur. It shows the phone screen and his contact name “Mane Man.” It is a cute pun for everyone to chuckle at.

I was only bothered by one thing. As in typical road trip movie style, it did follow one fairly common pattern. In one scene Ian and Barely accidentally tip over a gang of Pixie motorcycles. The Pixies do not listen to the apology the boys offer and proceed to chase the brothers down. It is a misunderstanding that one sees in most road trip movies, and I just found it cliché. However, the scene was animated tremendously well, and it didn’t take away my overall enjoyment of the film.

Another praise I would give the movie is the relationships. In this everchanging world of different family dynamics such as parents divorced, deceased, or being raised by someone else that is not their biological parents, most children’s movies portray a loving family or a neglected kid. In reality, that is not always the case, and relationships are more complicated. In Onward, the two brothers are raised by a loving mother, but their father passed away when Barely was young. The film shows a loving relationship between the family but also the dynamic of introducing a new family member as soon to be stepfather for Ian and Barley. In one scene, the boys are pulled over by the cops and they use a magical spell to make them look like their soon to be stepfather, Bronco, who is the police chief. During this spell, Ian cannot lie or the disguise will fail. The officers notice he is acting strangely, and we as viewers understand that Bronco is nervous about becoming a stepfather by one of his fellow officers saying, “It’s not easy being a new parent. My girlfriend’s kids got me pulling all my hair out.” This dynamic is often missing from movies, but I think many children and teens can relate to such anxiety.

My absolute favorite part of this movie was the relationship between Ian and Barley. Throughout the movie, Ian keeps making it clear that all he wants to do is meet his dad. He has a whole list of things he wants to do when he finally meets him. In the end, Ian gets in this huge fight with Barley since the time is about to run out. Ian sits on the beach and looks at his list and realizes that everything he ever wanted to do with his dad he has already done with Barley. Ian tells him, “I had someone who looked out for me. Someone that pushed me to be more than I ever thought I could be. I never had a dad, but I always had you.”

As an older sibling, I relate to the way Barley is towards Ian. Barley always is there to encourage and protect his baby brother since he had to fill a void in his life. I have personally gone through a situation where I had to be there for my sister as Barley is to Ian. I would do anything for her. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters because I was so reminded of the relationship that I have.

All in all, this movie is a must-see if you enjoy Pixar films. The concept of the film, setting, and most importantly the characters’ relationships made this movie a classic in my book. Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 virus, this movie did poorly in the box office but don’t let that deter you. It truly is an animated masterpiece.