‘Onward’ is set in a world of elves, centaurs, unicorns and other mythical creatures, but magic no longer exists as technological advances replaced it. Years after magic has faded from the world, Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) longs its return, but his little brother Ian (Tom Holland), who has just turned sixteen, is more concerned with high school and missing their dad. Both brothers could get what they want when they’ve the opportunity to magic their father back to life for 24 hours. However the spell goes wrong and only his bottom half materialises. Now they must go on a quest to fix the spell and spend whatever time they have left with him.
About 20 minutes into ‘Onward’, you’re feeling emotional and delicate, so you already know Pixar has done it again. The question will obviously be posed as to whether it’s the studio’s best film and you have to remember just how many movie favourites Pixar has given us. There’s been ‘Walle’ and ‘Up’, ‘The Incredibles’ and the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy (we’re not counting the fourth since, as any fan would readily admit, it was just ok), ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Monsters Inc’ with so many in between. To say that ‘Onward’ is Pixar's best in years (since 2015’s ‘Inside Out’) seems fair. And yes, bring tissues.
The voice cast is totally on point and the quality of the animation is as excellent as you’d expect. Tom Holland has played these kinds of roles before with his young, timid, slightly geeky voice lending itself seamlessly to an animated awkward teenager. His storyline about trying to reach out of his comfort zone is very sweet. But it’s Chris Pratt who steals the show as an old school, Dungeons and Dragons-playing, lore enthusiast who over-delivers lines about epic quests. Elsewhere Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who does a great bubbly but concerned mom, is paired up with Octavia Spencer’s The Manticore, who is a lot of fun as she alternates between kempt and fiery (literally).
There are a lot of takeaway messages from ‘Onward’ (the biggest one of all we won’t spoil) including the value of holding onto things from the past. While the dead parent thing may seem very typical Disney, the grief in the Lightfoot family is palpable and it’s a theme that is addressed really beautifully. The mixture of modern comedy scenarios with ancient quests is done really effectively. There are plenty of moments that will make you laugh out loud, as well as scenes that will exhilarate audiences.
As a movie, never mind as an animation, it’s very accomplished in terms of getting the emotional beats, the excitement, and the humour just right. You’ll want to watch it again immediately after viewing because it’s that enjoyable an experience. Moreover, you’re sure there are more quips, visual gags and references to delight in the more times you’ve seen ‘Onward’. It’s a fantastic adventure and road trip movie that does everything Pixar does best - giving you the feels and making you smile.