I’ve been anticipating this film for quite some time. With the urban modern fantasy overtones, it looked like it would be a blast, with great voice actors and a funny storyline. I was especially excited about Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as the lead characters in the movie. It was everything I hoped for and then some, combining a heartwarming story with a loving family and hilarious moments. It shines with classic Pixar animation combined with D & D style tropes with a modern twist.
Directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae—the team behind Monster University, Onward introduces us to a modern fantasy world where two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot find out that they might have a chance at one more day with their deceased father but in order to do so, they must go on a quest to see if there’s still magic left in the world. Helped by their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and The Manticore “Corey” (Octavia Spencer) and chased by officer Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez) who’s also Laurel’s boyfriend, the pair of brothers must retrieve the Phoenix Gem in order to bring their father fully back to life.
Part of what makes the film so fantastic is the story. Pixar has the ability to combine heart and humor in their movies and this one is no exception. We are introduced to Ian, who is turning sixteen but still struggles with learning to drive and while he loves his brother Barley, he’s also a bit embarrassed by him and his van, Guinevere. Barley loves magic and likes to learn about the days before technology when wizards used spells. Both of them miss their father. Laurel, their mother, hands them a present that their father wanted them to have once they were both over sixteen. It turns out to be a staff and while Barley is sure he can use it, it turns out to be Ian who has magical abilities. But he doesn’t know what he’s doing and that’s where the humor begins. The brothers summon Barley’s treasured van he calls Guinevere, and embark on a quest that promises to test their relationship. The bonding of the brothers as they follow their quest, guided by Barley’s knowledge of magic via role-playing is fantastically funny and shows Pixar at it’s best.
All through the film are some of the funniest scenarios and bits, like unicorns that act like rabid raccoons, Centaurs that use cars instead of running, and biker pixies. Some of the funniest scenes are ones that everyone can relate to like driving on the freeway and some are jokes that lean on the knowledge of gaming, especially those who’ve played Dungeons and Dragons. Like myself and I found myself laughing out loud at every joke.
Part of what makes this so beautiful is the bond between the brothers, the way that they fight but also back each other up. I especially love how much you see Barley as the older brother teaching his little brother how to drive and how to use the staff. Their relationship is integral to the story, and not just the humor but to the ending of the story.
Another element I loved is how feisty and amazing their mother Laurel is. She is kick-ass, fiery, and as much a part of the story as her sons. She goes after them when they head out on their quest and finds ways to help protect them, even when she doesn’t quite know how at the beginning. Her strength is a big part of why the story is so good and I love her interactions with Corey the Manticore, who is an equally strong and vibrant female character. It is the characters that make this story excellent.
Beyond the story, I also loved the world-building. I’ve seen fantasy before and this is a new twist, a new type of fantasy, suburban and modern with technology as the prime force at work in the world and magic the element not used. The use of magic doesn’t necessarily save the world but it does make some things different, even when it is difficult to use. And those differences help bond the two brothers. I also happen to love the concept of using magic to get one last chance to say goodbye to loved ones.
The actors involved in this film are phenomenal. Tom Holland is perfectly cast as Ian, nervous and uncertain until he embraces his magic. Chris Pratt is amazing as Barley as he helps and protects his brother. Both actors have a great rapport and are believable as brothers, the relationship between them shining with love. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is funny and talented as Laurel as is Octavia Spencer as Corey. Mel Rodriguez is both caring and stern as Colt Bronco, trying to take care of Ian and Barley but his awkwardness is part of the humor. Every actor is hilarious and the interactions between them are both loving and touching. It is also a plus that one of the characters in the film is LGBTQ+.
Others may find this movie predictable. I did not. I was too involved in the dynamic between the brothers and too engaged in the story but it also didn’t quite go the way I expected. It ultimately does end in a way that makes sense as it is told, but it was surprising and interesting in how the story was told.
This is one of the most magical and funniest Pixar films I have watched. I find the gamer references and jokes part of what made it so funny, but it was the loving and touching bond between the brothers and their quest to spend time with their father that makes this so good. If you like heartwarming stories, that might just make you cry, go see this one. It is humorous, fantastical, and beautiful.
Rating: 5 out of 5 biker pixies.