While Disney has been seeing much success from its numerous sequels (Toy Story 4, Frozen 2) and remakes (The Lion King, Maleficent), the studio is finally releasing a brand new, original story that won’t likely have a sequel. That might not make sound business sense, but I think Walt would be proud. Disney rarely created sequels. Instead, he continually sought out new creative ventures, something the studio seems to have forgotten in recent years.
Despite its wacky premise, Onward just might develop a strong following similar to Frozen. In fact, it is its’ equivalent for boys. That’s not to say that Frozen is a “girls” movie, but just like its main focus was understanding the love one has for one’s sister, Onward is a road trip about brotherly love. It’s also about dealing with grief. It’s very clever, very funny and thoroughly satisfying.
But Onward has a second message about not forgetting where one comes from. The story begins with a brief introduction into this fantastic world of elves, fairies, unicorns and dragons where magic was a way of life. However, as more modern advances in technology were developed, people forgot all about magic and their world began to look a lot like ours with humor borrowed from TV series like The Flintstones and The Jetsons.
In this world lives an elf who is turning 16. Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) lost his father before ever meeting him. The movie only explains that he was very sick before Ian was born. As an awkward teen, he wishes more than ever that he knew his father. Ian’s older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt) doesn’t have a lot of memories about their father either. It doesn’t help that their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is dating Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), a centaur sheriff, who is more like a bull in a china shop. He’s not their step-father yet, but it looks like he could be soon.
But on this special day, Laurel presents them both with a gift from their father that has been hidden away for many years. The only instructions he gave her was that she should give the gift when both of the boys have turned 16. And what a gift.
When Ian open’s the wizard’s staff, he doesn’t know what it is, but Barley does. Barley is deeply into role-playing games which he says are based on their world’s mythology. The staff comes with a spell that will allow the boys to meet their father and interact with him for 24 hours. After some trial and error, Ian is able to bring back “half” of his father. Just the pant legs. It’s weird and funny. But one can’t really interact with just a pair of pants. In order to see the second half of Dad, the two embark on a quest to retrieve a magic stone that’s needed to do the job.
Along the way, the pair run into a gang of fairies (who haven’t used their wings in so long, they don’t know how to use them and instead, ride motorcycles) and a former vicious beast called the Manticore (Octavia Spencer) who now runs her own Chuck E. Cheese-like themed restaurant.
Holland and Pratt are excellent with their roles and Spencer is hilarious as the Manticore. Onward is a beautiful, heartfelt story and a fun ride not to be missed. It’s a bit stressful watching these brothers go on this journey with time running out. Ian has a list of all the things he wants to say and do with his dad, but as their journey gets longer, his list gets shorter. But through it all Ian gets a greater appreciation for his brother.
Like Pixar’s underappreciated film, The Good Dinosaur, Onward shares the importance of family among trials and shows that we are much stronger together than we are apart. It has a happy ending. Maybe not the one you were hoping for, but maybe it is the one you need.
Main Image: Disney/Pixar
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.