Released into cinemas just at the exact moment when people were really beginning to need an escape from the real world, Disney Pixar’s Onward provides the escapism we are all looking for. Set in a fantasy land where magic has been long forgotten in favour of modern advances and suburban living, Onward tells the tale of two elf brothers who embark on an adventure to discover if there is enough magic left in the world to cast a spell that will allow them to spend one last day with the father they lost when they were too young to really get to know him. Featuring the voice talents of Chris Pratt, Tom Holland and Octavia Spencer, this family friendly animation combines comedy and adventure with deep ‘grown up’ feelings of loss, love and understanding
I’ll admit that when I first saw the trailers for this one, I was more than a little bit confused for the trailer’s didn’t seem to suggest much of a plot line or explanation, but rather focus on the comedic appearance of a walking pair of trousers and two arguing elves. When put into the context of the entire film, it all makes much more sense and flows really rather well. The film opens by introducing us to a world where modern technology and day to day life has overtaken the need for magic, leaving it mostly forgotten and rarely talked about, unless you happen to know Barley Lightfoot, who barely talks of nothing else but magic. Obsessed with a board game with it’s basis set in the history of magic, Barley (Chris Pratt) is full of confidence and belief, making him very different from his shy and constantly nervous little brother Ian (Tom Holland)
When presented with a gift from their late father, a magical staff, and discovering that he obsessed over magic and what it could do when he was ill, Barley and Ian to bring him back with a spell of his own creation. But when the spell backfires and they are left with only a pair of trousers, the two brothers have 24 hours to find enough magic to complete the spell and to see their father again. What follows is a whirlwind adventure with mythical beasts, tearaway sprites and runs in with the police, and a film that has something for everyone.
By taking familiar everything subjects, such as driving lessons, strange themed restaurants and police duty and mixing them seamlessly into a fantasy land, the world of Onward becomes strangely believable and you feel that you can easily relate to the characters. Brothers Barley and Ian are as different as chalk and cheese, but as in most family comedies, it works. Barley appears fearless whilst Ian appears to be afraid of everything, but by working together, they can do great things. Yes they argue, they argue a lot and fall out throughout the story, but that is what siblings do. The chemistry is realistic and you can see parts of yourself in the behaviour of the two brothers as Barley tries his best to boost Ian’s confidence whilst Ian tries to support his brother’s beliefs in the board game he obsesses over and the magic that it is based on.
In a nice change from most adventure movies, where the parents left at home appear to have no idea in what their children are doing, in this film we see Barley and Ian’s mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) become a hero in her own right as she follows her son’s on their dangerous adventure and enlists the help of the strange and powerful Manticore (Octavia Spencer). A great deal of comedy is also injected through the character of Colt Bronco (voiced by Mel Rodriguez), Laurel’s boyfriend and a local policeman. He tries his best to stick to the law whilst trying to support Ian and Barley to the best of his ability.
Something that Disney/Pixar are very good at doing is putting big topics into children’s movies, and doing it in such a way that allows the film to be enjoyable whilst introducing some big topics to children and providing something for the adults to enjoy. Onward plays heavily on the topics of the loss of a parent, the relationship between siblings and saying goodbye. These may appear rather heavy for a children’s film but Onward approaches them with sensitivity and understanding, fitting deep and meaningful conversations into an action packed adventure and not leaving any questions unanswered.
Due to the coranovirus pandemic, cinemas have had to close meaning that Onward has fallen victim to a terrible case of bad timing and hasn’t had the best response from the box office. Nevertheless, the film is soon to be released to streaming, meaning that more people will get the chance to see it and realise how good it is. This is a film that has something for everyone, and perfect family viewing.