This review is spoiler-free.
Onward is like a modern day Pixar interpretation of the classic 80’s movies I grew up watching. Set in New Mushroomton, mythical creatures like pixies, centaurs and sprites live together long after the use of magic from the past has faded out in favour of the technology we live with in the present day.
The film centres around elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt). These Pixar movies always have your heart in the palm of their hand as they undoubtedly have the perfect mix of comedy, joy and heroism as well as moments of soul crushing sadness. Your emotions are already all over the place from the beginning as we meet Ian on his 16th birthday and it’s pretty clear that his only wish would be to spend some time with his Dad. His Dad who he never met. Their Mum, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has been keeping a gift for the boys left by him and a wizard staff and a risky spell is where our journey begins.
I love Tom Holland and I love Chris Pratt, so in fairness I was sold on this film way before I even sat down in the cinema. Tom gives us Tom at his best and portrays Ian as an uber-nerdy Peter Parker. Ian is an awkward teenager who is trying to take steps to become the man he wants to be, but his social anxiety stops him from getting there. He’s also pretty embarrassed by his brother. Similarly, when I was watching Barley all I could hear was a hyped up, geeky version of Parks and Rec’s loveable, Andy Dwyer. Chris Pratt is so endearing in this film. For me, allowing or encouraging Tom and Chris to play their characters in familiar ways to how we’ve seen them before, allowed me to connect with them right from the beginning.
Ian and Barley are the classic heroes. Ian overcomes his anxiety and self doubt to become a magician so awesome even Harry Potter himself would stand watching in awe. His magical achievement is all thanks to his brother though. Barley acts as the goofball – the guy no one takes seriously, but when eventually listened to he’s full of the knowledge needed to be a great sidekick. His deep and thorough understanding of magic and mythology is what helps these boys on their path of fixing the spell which goes wrong when trying to bring their Dad back for 24 hours.
The film is full of fun and adventure. Another great character is Manticore, played by Octavia Spencer. Obviously, Octavia completely owns any role but she was hilarious in this film, giving it many of its jokes. I must also mention the biker sprites here as that whole scene was probably one of my favourites. Onward manages to also deliver some deep, heart felt moments which are really touching. In most films involving magic it’s practically impossible to bring someone back from the dead. Or if you can there’s always a severe consequence. The desperation to see their father is what keeps Ian and Barley moving through bottomless pits, tomb raiding through booby trapped buildings and driving along long winding roads. I really don’t want to spoil the ending so what I will say that what happens between the brothers is just so touching. Yes, I sat crying in the cinema!
This has to be Pixar’s most inclusive film too with some representation of the LBGTQ+ community, which was tastefully done. No big deal, just a throw away line in the middle of a conversation but it was nice to have. We learn that the easiest path isn’t always the best one to take. We learn that anyone can be a hero – you just need to believe in yourself. We learn that you can spend years looking for something which has been staring you in the face the whole time.
Overall, Onward really is a classic Pixar film. It delivers fun and frolics whilst conveying a really lovely message and gives us two leading characters that I definitely want to see more from.