Starring Tom Holland, Chris Pratt
Scott’s Review #1,164
Reviewed July 23, 2021
An emotionally satisfying adventure film that the whole family can enjoy Onward (2020) feels fresh and inventive while still employing some standard plot points. Pixar/Disney sure knows how to churn out animated features with a nice message and a family unit sensibility.
There is also plenty of diversity that delivers an inclusive feeling so hugely important in the modern age. Kids are impressionable and learn so much from the films they watch so this quality brought a smile to my face in an otherwise enjoyable experience.
The film also celebrates non-traditional families and shows that not having a traditional mother and father and pet dog doesn’t make you strange or unworthy of love and understanding.
Onward is not completely outside the box, however, and is careful to lure in the mainstream middle America audience but some progressive treats mix well with a robust brotherly adventure tale.
Though the title, Onward, doesn’t stick in my mind very long the film itself does.
I may have even shed a tear or two during the heartfelt finale.
Teenage elf brothers Ian and Barley (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) embark on a magical quest to spend one more day with their deceased father who loved magic. Their journey is filled with cryptic maps, overwhelming obstacles, and discoveries like any good adventure.
But when their Mom (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds out her sons are missing, she goes into mother lion mode and teams up with the legendary manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer) to bring her beloved boys back home.
The lead character, Ian, is a sixteen-year-old boy with growing pains and vulnerabilities that immediately make him likable. He is eager to make friends but awkward about doing so. It is suggested that he has no friends coming to his birthday party but it’s unclear why not. Ian is also a nervous driver, terrified of traversing a busy freeway.
Basically, he is an ordinary kid who the audience can see in themselves or a former self of years gone by.
His brother, Barley, is the opposite. He is afraid of nothing and cares not who he befriends or what people think of him. His outrageous vehicle, named Guinevere, is a rebuilt van. Think the mystery mobile from Scooby-Doo.
The crux of Onward is about relationships. At first, we assume that the big payoff will be between Ian/Barley and their father. While that sort of happens, a surprise blossoms along the way, and instead of a standard father/son dynamic we get a brother/brother one. This is a treat and manufactures a dual message. Never take for granted a loved one already in your life because one day they may be gone.
I enjoyed the adventures of Ian and Barley mostly because I just knew that some sort of reunion would occur between the boys and the father. Their gift of one day spent with their father was marred by only his bottom half being visible, but I suspected we would see all of the father eventually. Avoiding complete predictability, only one of the boys gets to interplay with his father as the other looks on longingly.
I enjoyed this element quite a bit as it avoided cliche and offered raw emotion.
Speaking of diversity, two gay female police officers appear in one scene and a suggestion that some of a motorcycle gang of pixies might be gay is also noticed. Again, this is important for child viewers to be exposed to.
Another win is the animation itself- just look at the cover art above for proof. With gorgeous purple and blue color, the nighttime scenes work especially well with a bright and luminous look that I adored.
A slight miss was that the boy’s mother never got to reunite with her dead husband and their relationship was treated as merely an afterthought. The featured plot was only that the brothers missed their Dad. A reunion between husband and wife would have been nice.
With a tender and emotionally satisfying conclusion, this cemented my appreciation for Onward (2020). There may be a tad too many car chase scenes and a couple of hokey plot ploys but the film has a lot of heart that shines through.
Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature