Pixar has a long-standing history of evoking emotions through the magic of bold stories that come from the heart. From our childhood toys coming alive and endearing robots finding love to cranky old retired balloon salesman and a hyperactive, curious young boy going on an adventure a boy who visits the afterlife, and a rat who can cook, these characters have connected to audiences of all ages because of dazzling animation and heartwarming stories. And now they have done it again with Onward.
Onward is a new kind of tale for Pixar, as it is their first time exploring the fantasy genre. While it is uncharted territory, the film finds a way to entertain with their emphasis on storytelling and high-quality animation that dazzles every inch of the screen. Everything else is just aesthetical bonuses that make the film that much more distinctive.
The fantastical world is unlike any other that Pixar has explored and is populated by mystical creatures like elves, centaurs, and pixies. It was once a world where wizards would use magic to energy, provide heat, and other essentials for daily life. But all of that became archaic soon as technological marvels like electricity came along.
Years later, the enchanting world looks more like modern-day suburbia. It’s here that we meet two teenage elf brothers, the shy and timid Ian (Tom Holland), and his protective older brother Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt). The two receive a wizard staff as a prearranged gift from their late father, who died before Ian was born, and Barley was too young to remember. This staff has the power to bring back their father for only 24 hours.
Though Barley is a firm believer that magic still exists, he cannot get the spell to work. However, Ian attempts to use the spell on his own but is only able to bring back a pair of legs. This prompts the two to go on a quest to find a way to back their father before time is up.
The bright, colorful, and beautifully lush animation gives way to a wonderous world that is populated by mythical creatures. Despite that, there are recognizable locations like high schools, construction work, freeways, gas stations, and family-themed restaurants. It speaks to the idea that magic is seen as childish when in reality, it was something meaningful and special.
Onward embraces the mythology of fantasy not only through its characters but also through crucial McGuffins. It also toys around with the genre by playfully modernizing it like turning a map that could find a powerful gem into a simple children’s menu. Pixies are an angry biker gang. And centaurs patrol in Ford Broncos. But it’s through meeting these characters that will help Ian and Barley discover that there is more to this quest than they originally thought.
Barley may seem like the oddball character in the film, but he has a big brother quality that makes him charming and lovable. He often speaks like he will fulfill his destiny to be a wizard and refers to playing cards as a reference to help others understand all of the mystic jargon and McGuffins. Though he is unable to cast any spells, he is very supportive of Ian, who isn’t as convinced as Barley. But because Ian is the only one in the family who can harness that power, Barley sees this as an opportunity to teach him about how to cast spells properly.
It’s a rare kind of brotherly relationship that is rarely depicted on screen. Typically, these brotherly relationships are portrayed as contentious and heated and frequently sees the older brother not having any interest in the younger brother. So in a way, it is refreshing to see something different and so honest.
But Onward isn’t exactly subtle about the story it is telling its audience. That is apparently obvious right from the get-go. And yet, it still works because it’s a profoundly human story. The magical and quest elements only add to the excitement and sense of urgency. All of that will come together perfectly in one of the best third acts ever seen in a Pixar film.
The idea that these two brothers would embark on such a dangerous quest to spend a day with their late father is a sentiment that anyone who lost a loved one can relate to. That is especially true for those who have experienced a tragic loss recently, like me. It’s a reminder that we should cherish every moment we have with our loved ones and that smaller more personal moments hold great meaning.
This story about spending a limited amount of time with a loved one is something that anyone can connect to. And one that hit too close to home considering that I lost my father just a few years back. But whether it’s to reconnect or find some closure, the idea of bringing back someone close is always on people’s minds. Director Dan Scanlon just found a way to take that personal story and present it with laughter, love, and a little bit of adventurous excitement.
Pixar’s Onward is a coming of age story that reminds us of the bonds we share with our loved ones. Scanlon’s deeply emotional and personal story adds a humanistic element to a magical world. At the same time, Holland and Pratt’s chemistry bringing in heart and humor. Their brotherly relationship and a mutual desire to bring back their father, even if it’s only for a day, is something resonate with anyone who has the same relationship and experiences. It is also the source of the joyous tears that will run down your face.
Onward is in theaters March 6. For more information visit. https://movies.disney.com/onward