Film Review – Onward


Onward is another first-rate animated feature from Pixar, with adventure, humour, and tear-jerking moments aplenty.

The plot concerns a land of magical beings (elves, trolls, pixies, centaurs, and so on) which in the past was filled with magic, but in recent times has become like our world. Because it is so much easier to rely on electricity and other modern conveniences, magic is all but ignored. Amid this world, we are introduced to brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, who through circumstances too convoluted to detail here, obtain a magical staff that brings their deceased father (who Ian has no memory of) back to life for one day. The problem is, the staff only conjures his bottom half – his legs, which wander around of their own accord. As a consequence, Ian and Barley head off on a quest together, trying to find the magical crystal that will complete the manifestation of their father, before the twenty-four hour window expires.

As one would normally expect from Pixar, the animation is beautiful throughout. Director Dan Scanlon and his animation department provide a colourful palette that mingles the familiar world of suburbia, cities, roads, petrol stations, restaurants, and so forth, with vivid fantasy set pieces. These include a bottomless chasm, stone ravens in the wilderness, an underground booby trap gauntlet, and a monstrous enchanted dragon comprised of building rubble.

The vocal cast includes Tom Holland and Chris Pratt in the leads. Both are highly engaging. In addition, there is strong support from the likes of Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Mel Rodriguez. Jeff and Mychael Danna provide a suitably stirring music score which stays just the right side of parody. Speaking of which, there are neat nods to everything from The Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and the Indiana Jones films throughout.

Ultimately, Onward understands the truth at the core of all great fantasy tales, in that it is in the journey that our heroes obtain what they truly need, not in finding the object of their quest. In this case, the brothers are on a tale of self-discovery, learning things about each other they never knew, coming to appreciate one another better. Themes of overcoming fear and self-loathing are also present, and one scene even has a nice allusion to the Biblical story of Peter walking on water, wherein he could do so whilst he kept his eyes on Jesus, but sank when he looked back at the wind and waves. As for the wonderful finale (which I obviously won’t spoil), it is certainly as moving as recent Pixar gems Coco and Inside Out. There was definitely something in my eye.

Exciting, funny, and emotionally resonant, Onward has something for everyone of all ages. One final note: Don’t arrive late and miss the Simpsons short before the main feature. It’s a gem.

UK Certificate: U

US Certificate: PG

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