Review: Glimmers of magic in Pixar’s ‘Onward’


press photo courtesy of Disney-Pixar

Tom Holland and Chris Pratt star in the animated film “Onward,” alongside their deceased father, represented by a reanimated pair of pants.

Caoimhe Farris, Staff Reporter

Disney-Pixar’s “Onward,” directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae, follows two elf boys, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barely Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), through a magical land now depending on science, as they discover a way they can meet their deceased father, but for only twenty-four hours.

When Ian turns sixteen, he realizes his desire to become more like his father, whom he’s never met. Barely, Ian’s 19-year-old brother, is a clumsy history nerd who is always finding ways to embarrass Ian or make things a lot more difficult. Their mother gives them a magical staff from their father that can bring him back for one day only. After hours of attempts by Barley, however, the brothers discover that Ian is the one with the magical touch. Complications in the spell, along with Ian’s faltering confidence, lead them to bring back only their father’s lower half. Yikes. Throughout the movie, Barely and Ian go on a quest to bring the rest of their father back by finding the phoenix stone. In a world of science, this magical quest proves to be more difficult than they thought.

“Onward” is a beautifully done movie, with gorgeous graphics and cute and funny dialog with relatable characters and situations. But given the movie’s deep theme—paired with the main characters’ father’s legs following them around—it’s hard to tell whether or not the writers intended “Onward” to be serious or lighthearted. Scenes where the brothers are bonding and having fun with their top-half-less dad are definitely sweet tearjerkers, but for the best reasons. However, combining the father into more serious scenes, like when Ian is caught in an insulting lie about his brother, the presence of a pair of disembodied legs in the scene make much of “Onward” a bit awkward.

“Onward” has a wonderful story. The brothers bond with each other more than they would have at home and realize things they might not have. Viewers can easily see how their relationship progresses and how both of the characters change, along with the ones they meet along the way. However, the ending was definitely not the one many wanted to see. It was incredibly bittersweet but made me realize “Onward” may have sought to leave the audience on a high note.

Looking back, the movie as a whole is great. Ignore the ending, however, and it’s pretty average, despite Pixar’s history of creating masterpieces. Pixar always has the tearjerkers at the end, but “Onward’s” really came out of nowhere. On a positive note, the graphics and portrayal of emotion by Holland in these scenes are so good the viewer can’t help but sob. 

To conclude, the movie as a whole is absolutely a beautiful one. The characters are funny and relatable while at the same time incredibly unique. With a movie that takes place in a world of magic, however, I was hoping to see a bit more of that element incorporated into the film. The real “magic” took form in the graphics, relationships, character development and the ending. Overall, it’s not nearly as wonderful as some of Pixar’s original masterpieces, but still one to watch again and again.