Onward-Pixar’s latest invention begins with a bit of what is now called “world-building.” The world of this animated feature is of elves, dragons, and wizards. Sadly, as a prologue explains, magic is tough to learn. A flash-forward illustrates how mythological creatures, lulled by the invention of light bulbs, smartphones, and other technology, gradually forgot how to cast spells.
“Onward” opens in a mostly modern, unmagical time. Unicorns fight over trash like angry raccoons. A fearsome Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer), her questing days behind her, runs a theme restaurant and worries about lawsuits. According to the workout she watches on TV, a single mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a mighty warrior. And elves are ears and sky-blue skin aside, much like humans. Our hero elf, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland), has just turned 16. He has the same concerns (shyness, fears of highway driving) that might occur in any high-school-age orc or hobbit.
The mild, one-joke amusement of “Onward,” directed by Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”), comes from the clash of the ordinary and the magical. The filmmakers have had fun creating a milieu with aggressive biker elves and cops who are centaurs or Cyclopes.
From Toy Story to Coco, loss of one kind or another is a major theme in many of Pixar’s movies. And that theme looms large over the studio’s latest feature, Onward. However, unlike movies like Up, Toy Story 3, or Inside Out, Onward’s characters have been living with their loss for well over a decade when the movie starts.
The film centers on a teenage elf named Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) whose father died before born. That early loss hovers over everything Ian does. He’s a ball of darkness, and the only thing that seems to interest him frankly is information about the father he never knew. Ian’s older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), was barely old enough to have any memories of their dad. Still, his death caused Barley to go in the exact opposite direction of Ian and become bravely, sometimes foolishly, fearless.
With the spell to quickly bring their father back to life about to get exhausted, Barley and Ian have made their way to the land to find a Phoenix Gem. They can finish the spell before it entirely wears off. However, when their search returns them to where they began, Ian loses faith and breaks into his older brother, although he soon repents his words and realizes just how vital Barley has been to him throughout his life. Barley finds the Phoenix Gem in the nearby ruins of a construction site and removes it. This activates a curse in the form of a colossal stone dragon that attacks the brothers while soliciting the Phoenix Gem.
Laurel the mother, and her new friend, the Manticore, aka Corey, check the dragon at bay using their varied skills and strengths, ultimately working together to drive Corey’s charmed sword into the heart of the dragon. This kills the beast and ends the curse on the gem. Barley gets the opportunity to see his father and say goodbye to him. The duo hug before the father disappears with the sunset. While Ian never speaks to his father, he gets to see him briefly and is at peace with the good relationship he’s grown with Barley in his father’s absence. Barley tells the message their father had for Ian, and their quest ends with the two hugging and fully coming to terms with the fact that their father is gone.
Where Do We Go Now?
The film ends with many of the casts in probably life-changing positions. Ian and Barley have shown to the world that prophecy is still a powerful force around them. Ian has taken to flaunting off his powers to the rest of his fellow high-school students, possibly inspiring more people to try to learn magic for themselves. He might even try to find ideas to join his magical skills with more modern technology. He was earlier a member of a science club and has an ability for mathematics.
His new adventure has also given him a sense of goodwill that he lacked before, helping him find the quiet courage to open up. He became friends with some of his school mates. The film ends with Ian using his magical power to make Barley’s new van fly. Barley’s in-depth knowledge of supernatural beings and artifacts could become much more better now that it’s been sure to the world that magic definitely still has power in the world.
Meanwhile, the brothers’ mission seems to have had a good impact on the rest of their family. Laurel has finally found the fighter within herself. She’s shown going out for “girls’ nights” with Corey after the film’s climax, suggesting the duo will go on quests together to obviously dangerous settings and places.
Barley and Ian’s quest has even had a positive impact on other characters, such as the sprite biker gang (who have rediscovered their ability to fly after encountering the brothers) and Laurel’s longtime boyfriend, Colt. In the latter case, the police officer has embraced his centaur heritage and began to go running instead of using his car to get to work. It suggests that this fantasy world’s future may become a hybrid of modern society and ancient magic, which would be an interesting shift to see play out.
A true emotional story inspired Onward.
Onward marks Pixar’s return to original filmmaking, and, like the best of Pixar, it will make you laugh and cry. You might not be aware of the true emotional story that inspired the movie.
Director and co-writer Dan Scanlon’s father passed away when he was just a year old. Still, he and his older brother had a brief audio recording of his father saying “hi” and “goodbye” formed the inspiration for Onward’s plot.
“I had a tape of my father’s voice when I was growing up, and we have a scene like that in the movie. It unquestionably was an inspiration,” he said to a media forum.
“There’s a scene where the brothers are having a pillow fight, and little Ian hits big Barley softly, and Barley throws himself into the air and falls on the ground. That is something my brother used to do all the time.
He would make me feel like I was strong, I’d hit him and he’d be like, ‘Whoa, man, you nearly knocked me off the bed’. That’s a very little tiny personal moment.”
Onwards is truly an emotional roller coaster ride. It is was released on 6th March 2020, and has a 7.4/10 rating on IMDb and 88% on Rotten Tomatoes.