Adventure Animation

Review: With ‘Onward,’ Pixar Casts a Heartwarming Spell About the Bond Between Brothers

March 4, 2020Ben MK

What if magic were real? In the bustling city of New Mushroomton — where minotaurs and cyclops serve as law enforcement and where unicorns are akin to raccoons — it's not hard to imagine a time when wizards wandered the land, using their spells to help those in need. However, those days are long gone, and the art of magic itself has long been forgotten — at least, for the most part.

Enter Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland), an awkward, soon-to-be 16-year-old elf whose late father (Kyle Bornheimer) was a big believer in the mystic arts. In fact, Ian's dad even aspired to be a wizard himself. But while he may have passed on his passion for magic and his yearning for the days of yore to Ian's more raucous and outspoken older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), Ian doesn't quite share their enthusiasm. That is, until his 16th birthday, when Ian's mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) presents him with a gift from his dad — a wizard's staff, the rare and powerful Phoenix gem, and an incantation that can reunite the brothers with their dad for one last, fleeting day.

It's an opportunity that neither Ian nor Barley can resist, and that holds especially true for Ian, who never got the chance to meet his dad before he passed away. But when the spell goes awry and the gem is destroyed, leaving them with a manifestation of only half their dad — the bottom half, to be exact — it sends the brothers on a quest for another Phoenix gem so they can complete the spell and bring back their dad in his entirety. There's just one caveat, though — if they don't do so before sunset, they'll forever lose the chance to see their dad again.

Directed and co-written by Dan Scanlon, what follows is something of a departure for Pixar, the studio best known for the ever-endearing Toy Story franchise, not to mention such hits as Inside Out and WALL-E. Gone are such high-concept ideas as trash-compacting robots in search of the meaning of their own existence; instead, Scanlon and company are happy to give moviegoers such scenes as a highway chase involving a motorcycle gang of aggressive, chain-wielding pixies. At times, it feels like one big, visually resplendent exercise in immaturity, but if there's one thing Pixar knows, it's how to surpass viewers' expectations while also tugging at their heartstrings.

Suffice to say, Onward ultimately proves just as touching as the best of Pixar's back catalog. For as the characters themselves thoughtfully observe, sometimes the right path isn't the most obvious one. Likewise, although one might think that this adventure's emotional payoff lies in the family reunion between Ian, Barley and their late father, it's actually the bond between these two brothers that ends up resonating the strongest.

Onward releases March 5th, 2020 from Walt Disney Studios Canada. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for action/peril and some mild thematic element. Its runtime is 1 hr. 42 min.

You May Also Like