Disney’s Latest Release ‘Onward’ Is All The Talk This Spring

Disney’s ‘Onward’ Hit The Streaming Platform ‘Disney+’ On March 6, Creating A Perfect 'Stay-At-Home' Movie Night For Friends And Families

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Disney Studios and Pixar Animation

Pixar's 'Onward' casts a spell on viewers.

Patrick Deliz, Writer

Where does the adventure begin? Be warned the following includes spoilers.

In a world inhabited by mythical creatures, magic was once commonplace though difficult to master. Technological advances over the centuries however made magic obsolete and was largely discarded. In a time equivalent to the modern day, Ian Lightfoot [voiced by Tom Holland], a high-schooler elf lacking self-confidence, and his older brother Barley [voiced by Chris Pratt], a history and role-playing game fanatic, live in the city of New Mushroomton. Their father Wilden died of a severe illness shortly before Ian was born, and their mother Laurel [voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus] has a new boyfriend, centaur police officer Colt Bronco [voiced by Mel Rodriguez], whom Ian and Barley dislike. On Ian’s sixteenth birthday, Laurel gives the brothers a gift from Wilden, their father [voiced by Kyle Bornheimer]: a magical staff, a rare gem, and a letter describing a “visitation spell” that can resurrect their father for a single day. Ian accidentally succeeds in casting the spell, but only the lower half of Wilden’s body is reformed before the gem disintegrates. The brothers embark on a quest to acquire another gem and complete the spell, taking Barley’s beloved van “Guinevere”. Finding the boys gone, Laurel leaves to find them. 

Ian and Barley visit the Manticore’s Tavern, named for a monster possessing a map to the gem. The tavern has become a family restaurant managed by the Manticore [voiced by Octavia Spencer], also known as “Corey”. Arguing with Ian over the map, The Manticore realizes how boring her life has become and drives the customers away in a fit of rage, accidentally setting fire to the restaurant and the map. The brothers’ only clue to the gem is a children’s menu suggesting “Raven’s Point”, a nearby mountain. Laurel later arrives at the scene and befriends The Manticore, who agrees to help her. The Manticore warns that the brothers’ journey may awaken a curse that can only be defeated by her special sword, which she and Laurel steal from a pawn shop. Traveling to the mountains, Ian and Barley narrowly escape the police and a motorcycle gang of pixies, relying on Ian’s newly awakened spell-casting abilities and Barley’s role-playing game instincts. “Raven’s Point” leads them on a trail indicated by a series of raven statues, but Colt follows them, calling in reinforcements. Barley sacrifices Guinevere to cause a landslide, blocking their pursuers. Following the statues, the brothers descend through a cave and avoid a series of traps and deadly creatures, during which Barley reveals to Ian that he was unable to emotionally bring himself to say goodbye to Wilden when he was dying in the hospital years before. 

They then run into a trap, and surface to find themselves in front of Ian’s high school. Ian, fed up with Barley’s recklessness, lashes out at him for leading them on a wild goose chase and walks away with Wilden. Rereading his list of things he always wished to do with his father, Ian realizes that Barley has been a father figure throughout his entire life, and returns to make amends. Barley discovers the gem inside a historic fountain and retrieves it, unwittingly triggering the curse The Manticore spoke of, which turns the high school into an artificial dragon bent on claiming the gem. Ian faces the artificial dragon, but his staff is knocked into the ocean; he reforms it from a splinter and continues the fight. The Manticore flies in carrying Laurel, who plunges the magic sword into the artificial dragon’s heart, buying Ian time to cast the visitation spell and fully reform Wilden’s body. Ian sends Barley ahead to finally give his proper goodbye to Wilden, and holds off the artificial dragon long enough for Laurel to destroy it. After Wilden dissipates, Barley tells Ian that their father is proud of him, and the brothers share a hug. Ian’s confidence and spell-casting improve and he surprises Barley by painting his new van, the “Guinevere 2”. The Manticore reopens her tavern in its original spirit, drawing in customers with tales of past adventures, Ian and Barley have a better relationship with Colt, and the brothers continue questing.

The Backstory:

You might not know this, but Dan Scanlon, who also directed the vastly under-appreciated Monsters Inc. sequel, Monsters University, lost his father when he was only a year old. In turn, he was raised by his older brother, who was only three at the time, and by his mother. Does that sound familiar to the plot of this movie? It definitely should, and that might be why this movie, more than any other Pixar film in the past, made people tear up the most. Just the idea alone of wishing a father to return for just one more day makes me want to cry, but the fact that the director put his heart and soul into this idea, and made it feel universal, creates something that lingers, even after the end credits.

What’s Good About the Film?

How does one plant the seeds to a world that is more unique than the mind of a little girl like in ‘Inside Out’ or Andy’s bedroom in ‘Toy Story’?  The world in ‘Onward’ is a hidden magic universe within our own world, which makes this world so interesting. Then, there are all the different magic spells in the movie that are so intricate and mesmerizing. All throughout the film’s storytelling, I kept wondering, what magic spells will they come up with next? It created an experience that felt like true magic. 

Why is the Film Getting Backlash?

Disney’s ‘Onward’ has received backlash from moviegoers and critics, calling the film a “disappointment to Pixar”. Critics believe that while the film was certainly emotional and heartfelt, it just does not compare to Pixar classics like ‘Cars’ or ‘Monsters Inc.’. Some fans even believed that while watching the film, it felt like a Pixar knock-off.

“This may be the most generic Pixar movie to date,” Ty Burr, writer at the Boston Globe, wrote in his review of the film. “That doesn’t make it at all bad, merely average. Still, saying ‘Pixar’ and ‘average’ in the same sentence just feels wrong.”

From the Marvel Universe to a Pixar Feature?

Almost everyone is in love with Tom Holland as Spider-Man. But Tom Holland’s performance in Onward is something entirely different, as is his subtle presence. It is quite a different role, and one that has suffered so much loss. Ian Lightfoot even shows some of the same curiosity of using magic that Peter Parker has at times [seeing all the cool gadgets from Tony Stark]. However, there is a looming sadness throughout the movie that never misses the mark and it feels entirely real. I myself remember putting on a smile sometimes and going through points of depression in high school, and that is what Tom Holland’s character gives all throughout the film. It truly is an excellent performance, and better than possibly any other Pixar film. It is that real, honest and raw emotion that we can relate to, which hooks you into the story.

Can We Talk About How This Had Me in Tears?

Most Pixar movies make us cry, with their sad or heartfelt scenes [ for example; ‘Coco’ had that scene with Mama Coco and ‘Up’ had the first ten minutes]. Even with all those great and iconic moments that brought tears to our eyes, almost the entirety of the runtime of ‘Onward’ put tears in my eyes. Just the idea of a story where two brothers want to bring their father back for just one more day, had me feeling distressed thinking about that countdown clock on Ian’s watch. And then by the end- well, I am not going to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but it truly is that heart wrenching.

My Overall Thoughts

Despite what critics say, I personally believe this was one Pixar’s best films. I connected with the story and felt the emotions. Also, I love how ‘Onward’ breaks the norm of having the super-emotional scene in the beginning of the film and saves it for the end, making it all worth it. Obviously, not my number one favorite, but certainly a movie I could watch again. I recommend it to all of you sitting at home, trying to find something to do.

Rating: 7.5/10