Pixar has been setting the bar for animated family films for the better part of three decades now and what’s most impressive is how, year after year, they continue to meet their own lofty expectations.
They stuck the landing again with “Onward,” a story set in a fantasy world beset by modern technology where wizards, elves, and trolls live in suburbia, and magic and wonder are all ancient history.
“Onward” uses this world as a backdrop and smartly resists the temptation of bombarding us with jokes about feral unicorns and trolls working at toll bridges, and instead just sprinkles them into the background.
The heart of our story centers on two teenage elf brothers Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland). Ian is the shy and timid younger brother who longs to find the courage to come out of his shell, while Barley is bold, lacking in common sense, and obsessed with the magical past where dungeons and dragons weren’t just found in board games but around every corner.
On Ian’s 16th birthday, his mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives Ian a present from his deceased father whom he never met. The gift is a wizard’s staff and the instructions on how to cast a spell that can bring Ian and Barley’s father back to life for one day so he can see how his boys have grown up.
Unfortunately, the boys bungle the spell and are only able to bring back their father from the waist down. Barley knows that the key to finishing the spell is a magical jewel and so the boys set off with their father’s legs in tow on a quest to find the jewel.
Ian and Barley meet several interesting characters along the way, including The Manticore (Octavia Spencer) who has traded her warrior ways for managing a family-style restaurant, and discover that there’s still quite a bit of magic left in the world.
There’s plenty of fun, adventure and laughs to be had along the way, but Pixar never strays far from the heart, and the relationship between these brothers with seemingly nothing in common remains front and center throughout. And just when you think the story is going to predictably zig, it zags in some satisfying and heartwarming directions.
“Onward” shows that Pixar can still cast a spell over audiences that is hard to find in family-friendly entertainment.”
Onward” is rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements.