Review: ‘Onward’ is Full of Pixar Original Magic

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onward movie review
Disney/Pixar
onward movie review
Disney/Pixar

I was very much looking forward to Onward, Pixar’s first original, non-sequel movie in over two years. I mean, what’s not to love? The movie takes place in a land populated by fairytale creatures, following two elf brothers voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. They’re going on an epic quest, filled with magic and misadventure. Early reviews praised it as the best Pixar film since Finding Nemo. I left the theater feeling a little more conflicted about giving Onward that level of praise, but I found the movie highly enjoyable and worth a watch.

A lot of Onward‘s magic – ironically enough – comes from the world it creates: one that flourished from magic (wizards, sprites, unicorns, you name it) but ultimately abandoned it in favor of convenience (electricity and the like). The wizards? Gone. The sprites? Flightless motorcycle gangs. The unicorns? Basically raccoons – pests digging through trash in the streets of New Mushroomton, the suburb where our story begins.

The story centers on the two aforementioned elf brothers, Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt). On Ian’s sixteenth birthday, his mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) hands him and Barley a mysterious gift from their late father – a wizard staff, with a visitation spell intended to bring him back for one day only. Barley, a townie on an extended gap year who is obsessed with a D&D equivalent game and all things magic, is thrilled – but can’t make the spell work. Ian, who is much more anxious, shy, and eager to fit in, doesn’t seem too interested in the staff – until, after Barley has given up, he halfheartedly tries the spell… and it works.

However, Barley spooks Ian before he can finish the spell, leaving their dad only half-materialized. From there, the pressure is on to find another phoenix gem (the power source of the spell) and finish the magic before their 24 hours run out. The boys hop into Barley’s beloved unicorn-painted van, Guinevere, and head out on a quest that will bring them in contact with fearsome mythical beings, test their resolve, and bring out both of their greatest potentials.

I loved seeing Ian navigate his newfound magical powers – with plenty of encouragement and enthusiasm from Barley. The spells often work in unexpected ways, with lots of visual fun. The dynamic between the two brothers is at times hilarious and heartbreaking, but always relatable. It’s so rewarding to see Ian and Barley come to grow beyond their misguided perceptions of each other and appreciate their brother for who he really is as the film progresses.

As for the Pixar magic? It was fantastic to explore this wholly new world, which has so many clever jokes and twists. The story isn’t afraid to take some swings, including a big one near the end of the film that I definitely didn’t see coming. I’m still not sure I liked that choice, but I respect Pixar and director Dan Scanlon’s commitment to the story they wanted to tell.

Onward is full of fun, adventure, and family hijinks. Set your chosen vehicle to O – for Onward! – and go see it this weekend.

Onward hits theaters this Friday, March 6.