REVIEW: ‘Onward’ is a typical magical adventure


Courtesy of IMDB

Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) try to see their dad one last time.

As one of the films released early to video on-demand and streaming services, “Onward” features two brothers who go on an adventure to spend a day with their deceased father.

Tom Holland stars as Ian, the younger brother who has just turned 18-years-old, and Chris Pratt stars as Barley, the older brother who’s currently taking a gap before college. Despite this powerhouse duo, the film doesn’t precede past the typicality of a Pixar adventure story. 

The film begins with a monologue spoken by Ian and Barley’s deceased father, Wilden. Wilden describes the world as a place full of magic, which was used to help everyone. The problem being that magic wasn’t easy to master, so people found easier methods to deal with life’s various challenges. This queues a montage of modern technology – the lightbulb, highways, television, etc.

Due to modern technology, magic faded into the background is the world moves on from its magical roots. The start to a good Pixar movie that pertains to pertains to magic in one way or another.

We see the family containing the two brothers, their mother Laurel, and their mother’s boyfriend, Officer Bronco. We see Ian as the socially awkward high school, Barley as the wild older brother, Laurel trying her best and Officer Bronco trying too hard.

As one may notice early on, Ian desperately wants to connect with his father as he finally fits into his father’s sweatshirt. On his way to school, he meets someone who had went to college with his father; they nothing but nice things to say about him. 

After the conversation, Ian writes a list titled “New Me.” The list contains only four things: “Speak up more,” “Learn to drive,” “Invite People to the Party,” “Be more like Dad.” In classic Pixar fashion, we are shown a montage in which Ian attempts all of these things and fails miserably. 

He attempts to speak up when someone has their feet on the chair of his desk, but they don’t listen. He’s seen taking a driver’s test and he couldn’t merge onto the highway as he was too scared; this would be subliminally addressed later in the movie, also. He also tries to invite people to his birthday. He managed to invite a group of people, but retracts the invitation when Barley arrives to take Ian home in his van named Genevieve. 

We dramatically see Ian cross out of the things on the list, especially the one about being more like his dad. Another sad moment would be when Ian’s in his room and plays a cassette tape, titled “Dad.” We hear Wilden’s voice and he’s trying to make something work – presumably whatever’s recording the message. It hits even harder when Ian begins speaking with the tape as if he’s having a conversation with his Dad.

Throughout the film, Ian is desperate to have a connection with his dad who died before he was born. He was especially excited when the opportunity to meet his dad was offered. His dad had left a magic spell behind as a gift and it allowed someone to bring back a dead person for 24 hours. 

They had to use a magic staff and a phoenix gem to fulfill the spell. Funny problem: the spell only worked when Ian did it and it only brought back half of their father’s body – the bottom half. 

Ensue the remaining hour or so of the film as both Barley and Ian embark on a lighthearted, comedic and sometimes disheartening trip to find another phoenix gem to get the rest of their dad. 

A moment that I personally enjoyed was what I call “Genevieve’s  Sacrifice.” The boys were well on their way of their adventure and at this point, they were trying to get away from the police. Their stepdad – Officer Bronco – had been notified after the boys were caught swerving off of the highway. 

They were taking the backroads, as Barley described to be the “Path of Peril,” and they reached a place where there wasn’t a road. They couldn’t drive any farther and the police were hot on their heels. In order to block the police, Barley noted that these boulders needed to be knocked down.

Barley winds up putting a huge rock on the gas and letting Genevieve (Barley’s van) fly and knock down the boulders. When I say fly, you see all of these parking tickets come out of the glove compartment and come out of the two front windows. It gave the van the appearance of wings. The camera kept cutting to the winged unicorn on the side of the van, even when the boulders were piling on top of it,

As I mentioned before, Ian had made another list. This time was a list of things to do when his dad was a full body instead of just legs. After a huge argument between him and Barley, Ian realized that Barley had been the one that fulfilled those things on list already. For example, he had included “driving lesson” on the list, which was a reference to the driver’s list from earlier. 

During the trip, he had to drive the van before it was sacrificed as Barley had been shrunken small. They had to get onto the highway and Ian was very nervous, but Barley encouraged him to get onto the highway.

The movie shows up with the road trip adventure where a duo experiences various challenges from Point A to Point B. We see the optimistic person of the duo, Barley, and the practical one of the due, Ian. We see the breakdown of their relationship where they get into an argument where it seems they cannot comeback from. We see them stranded without gas. We see them get in trouble with the police. 

“Onward” has been Pixar’s latest attempt to take on the complicated dynamic of family, especially with one that lost a parent while having using the typical movie tropes of the Road Trip. The movie’s lightheartedness and comedy makes it a perfect film for children and it can put a simple smile on one’s face during these hard times.