Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Onward in the cinema. I’ll admit that when i saw the trailer last year, I wasn’t overly interested. Pixars first film since 2017 that hasn’t been a sequel/spin off, there was quite a high expectation. This seemed like just another quest story life much like Finding Nemo, Inside Out and Toy Story. It is an easy formula to follow and thus has been overused. I also wasn’t too impressed with the idea of a dungeons and dragons styled world. While I am a D&D player, it looked out of place. We’ve done the whole ‘Monster’ thing (twice) and fantasy isn’t too dissimilar.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. How dare I thing Pixar wouldn’t deliver?
Arrived in cinema, hot dog and milkshake in hand, the projection starts and rather unexpectedly, there is a Simpsons short in place of Pixars tradition animated cartoon. I was a cute sketch revolving around Maggie and another baby who meet at the park. Honestly, it was a 5 minutes cringe fest and did feel rather out of place. I was a huge fan of The Simpsons growing up but I feel they have had their heyday and relaying on a second Simpson movie to keep them relevant.
Onward begins with some exposition of how magic was once widely used to get by but with the invention of electricity, beings became more reliant on convenience and magic was forgotten as generations past. Fast forward to present day which mirrors our present day. We are introduced to our protagonist, Ian and his Mum and brother, Barley. It is established early on that Ian’s father passed away before he was born and while a lot of heros in Disney movies have dead parents, there is something real about this portrayal. Perhaps its the relatable environment. Perhaps I’m just older and this sort of thing has more of an impact on me now. Either way, it felt genuine and I instantly related to Ian.
It is Ian’s 16th birthday and Momma elf has a gift that was left by the boys father: a magic wizards staff. Oh and a spell that will bring back Dad for 24 hours and 24 hours only. Barley tried several times to cast the spell but fails. It is only later on when Ian is alone that the staff shows any signs of life. As the staff reacts to the spell, Ian’s dad begins to appear, starting from shoes, then socks and trousers. Suddenly the gem shatters, leaving only half of Dad, the bottom half. That’s right, like Wallace and Gromets “The wrong trouser“, Ian’s dad is a walking, dancing pair of legs.
The rest of the movie is Barley, Ian and Daddy legs on a quest to find another Phoenix gem in the hope to bring the rest of Dad back before the sun sets.
Along the way they: Inadvertently burn down a tavern,
Reignite The Manticore’s passion for adventure,
Worry Momma elf who sets out to find the boys,
Anger some flightless Sprites,
Somehow the Sprites learn to fly again,
Impersonate a police officer,
Run away from the cops,
Destroy a van,
Have a dance with Daddy Legs.
Ian masters magic,
Protagonist fight before the climax and they make up.
The ending is an emotional journey. When Barley picks up the Phoenix stone, he activates a cure dragon. Constructed out of rubble from the school and near by surroundings, the dragon is after one thing, to get it’s gem back. Momma elf gets to have big moment where she puts her workout dvd’s to the test and takes on the dragon. I have never rooted for a cartoon parent so much. This mum is bad ass. The Manticore also had a shot at destroying the dragon but doesn’t quite make it. During a previous heart to heart, Barley mentions how he never got to stay goodbye to his dying dad, having been frightened by all the tubes and wires keeping him alive. Ian, realising that Barley has been the father figure in his life, chooses to let Barley have the scares few minutes with dad. The gem does its thing and Ian uses his magic to help destroy the dragon. Its a pretty spectacular scene, I have to admit. In the crater of rubble, Ian manages to find a small gap to watch Dad fully appear and Barley gets to say goodbye. After the sunsets, Barley helps Ian and they share a touching moment before the movie fast forwards and we see that Ian has become a much more confident person.
It is the ending of this movie that makes it stand out. The moment Ian realises that it is Barley who has been there for him, stepping up as the male role model in his life. While Ian didn’t get to meet his dad, he didn’t go without and ever big milestone in his life, was achieved with Barley by his side. Barley however, is on his own journey. Unlike Ian, he has memories of his dad. But it was a story left incomplete. Earning him the right to say his good bye and that valuable time with the person he once knew.
This movie has so much to it. So many messages behind it. It tells kids that there can be other role models in their life and ‘typical dad/mum/parent’ things can be achieve with anyone. The most unlikeliest person may have stepped into those shoes without you realising it. It also goes very detailed into death and illness. Though never actually confirmed, it is implied that Ian’s dad died from a long term illness such as cancer. This isn’t something that has been touched upon before yet is a very real thing that affect so many people. Barley’s description of seeing his dad covered in tubes and wires is what a lot of children have experienced and showing that in a movie makes it more normal. Life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine.
One final point. This movie revolves around two brothers. Frozen and Frozen 2 looked into the bond between sisters and how true love doesn’t have to mean a romantic interest. While movies and media is slowly becoming more gender neutral, Frozen still has a larger female fan base. Onward offers something for both boys and girls but focuses on brotherly love. I am a fan of both films but it fascinates me to see how different the dynamics are between siblings of the same sex. The sisters in frozen will hug, hold hands and typical ‘girly’ traits. The brother in Onward have a more subtle bond. The bug each other, drive each other crazy yet are still there for one enough. It is important to show these different kinds of sibling bonds.
All in all, I really liked this movie. The trailer didn’t give too much away and it was a bright and heartfelt story. As Pixars first original movie since 2017, it was impressive. Now to see how Soul will compare…
I was not paid to write this review.