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‘Onward’ is a Heartfelt Film for the Entire Family – Review

The latest Disney/Pixar collaboration is upon us with the mystical movie, Onward. Set in a land filled with various mythical creatures like elves, centaurs, unicorns, the manticore (Octavia Spencer) and much more, the notion of magic has long faded. With magic being difficult to wield for many of the land’s inhabitants, modern conveniences have taken over. With magic a thing of the past, the residents of New Mushroomton is seemingly like every other town (minus the mythical residents). However, Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is about to turn 16 and at the behest of his mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Ian is to have a party to celebrate. But all Ian wants to do is go to school and figure out who he is; something he finds difficult without a father in his life. 

Before Ian was born, his father passed away and he was raised by his mother alongside his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt). A historical fanatic and lover of magic lore, Barley’s main obsession is a role-playing game rooted in the world’s magic and historical adventures of the past. Upon seeing that Ian’s sixteenth birthday is not going as well as it should be, Laurel gives Ian and Barley a gift that was left to them by their father. This gift is a magical staff with a rare gem, accompanied by a spell which would have their father visiting the siblings for 24 hours. However, when Ian tries to cast the spell, it doesn’t go as planned and only the half of their father’s body makes it back to the physical world. 

Laurel, Ian and Blazey (Courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

Wanting desperately to spend time with their dad, the brothers embark on an epic quest to retrieve another magical gem and bring the rest of their father’s body back. With a bunch of obstacles great and small in their path, the brothers must race against time for that chance to see their dad and learn more about their family than they could have dreamed.

Directed by Dan Scanlon, Onward is a magical ride into a mystical land which is both familiar, yet new. While many viewers have likely seen various renditions of elves, unicorns, centaurs and more at some time or another, Onward gives us a fresh take on all of them. Its tale and exploration of the lack of magic in New Mushroomton’s current society was interesting, and the idea of magic still existing within even the unlikeliest of places is truly an element that will likely resonate with audiences. The familiarity is good in the sense that you know some of the mythical elements weaved into the world of Onward, but there are still differences that will keep viewers entertained (like the unicorns of the land becoming more like raccoons, fighting over the remnants of a knocked over garbage can than the creatures of lore we’ve come to know). 

Barley, Ian and the Manticore (Courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

Holland is great in the role of the awkward teen, Ian. Unsure of himself, Barley yearns to be more like the father he never knew. He wants to assert himself, make new friends and invite them to his birthday party and Holland does great voice work in the role. He’s truly believable as the young elf looking to make his way – even if his older brother, Barley often gets in the way of Ian trying to find out who he is as a person. Pratt is serviceable as Barley, who is likely to get on your nerves at various points throughout the film. Often obnoxious and sometimes abrasive with his larger-than-life personality, it was upsetting to see the moments where Barley overshadowed and/or embarrassed his younger sibling. While not trying to do any of this on purpose, it certainly puts a damper on Ian’s mood unbeknownst to Barley. The pair do well with their shared chemistry, feeding off one another while spending the majority of their characters’ screen time together. However, some of the best scenes come from those shared between the Manticore and Laurel, voiced by Spencer and Louis-Dreyfus respectively.

At its core, Onward is a story that’s as equally about finding your place in the world as it is about family. While Ian spends most of his time trying to discern who he is and how he might have been different had he met his father, it also shows the dynamic between he and his mother, as well as he and Barley and how they shaped the man he’s on the road to becoming. It takes Ian a little while to realize it, but he can be the greatest version of himself with the love he gets from his mother and brother, realizing that he is more alike than his father then he could have ever dreamed. He just needed that little extra push to take life by the horns and go on an amazing adventure of a lifetime. 

Onward is in theaters now. 

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