‘Onward’ Movie Review

Onward Movie Review
In Disney and Pixar’s ‘Onward,’ brothers Ian and Barley use a spell gifted to them on Ian’s 16th birthday to magically conjure their dad—half of him, anyway—right down to his signature purple socks. (Photo © 2019 Disney/Pixar)

“We’ve only got 24 hours to bring back the rest of dad…we’re going on a quest,” says elf Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) to his younger brother, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland), as they try to bring back their dead father for one special day in the Pixar animated adventure, Onward.

The film takes place in a fantasy suburban world made up of elves and other magical creatures, all of whom have given up or forgotten about magic. On his 16th birthday, Ian’s mom (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) delivers a special present from his father – a wizard staff. Along with the gift is a magical incantation that will bring back his father for one whole day.

Both Ian and Barley, who has studied the old ways of magic, are excited about the opportunity to see their dad. He passed away when Barley was young and just before Ian was even born.

But when Ian tries to do the spell with Barley’s unwanted assistance it only succeeds in bringing back the bottom half of their dad – his feet, legs, and rear. Having only 24 hours to bring the top part of their dad back and spend time with him, Ian, Barley, and their dad’s legs venture out on a quest to find the gem that will power the wizard staff to complete the spell.

Colorful and zany, Onward is a screwball comedy adventure that misfires when it tries to be heartfelt and poignant. It’s an uneven ride that’s at its most entertaining when the two elf brothers try to rediscover and put to use the magic of their long-ago ancestors.

Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as the voice of Barley, the older elf brother who’s almost always optimistic and who loves the age-old magic. He also loves Ian and is super excited to team up with him on the quest.

Tom Holland is solid as the voice of Ian, a young elf desperate to succeed on the quest so he can finally get to know his father and hopefully do a few “father and son” things which he’s missed out on all these years.

The best part of Onward is the way the legs of the father are worked into scenes; the legs are carried, pulled, and dragged along as they join the two brothers on an adventure. In an attempt to make the legs blend in, Ian uses a volleyball, jacket, sack, sunglasses, and a baseball cap to fill out the rest of the top portion of his dad. The near misses, crashes, and movements of the father while he looks this way are reminiscent of actor Terry Kiser as Bernie in the hilarious 1989 film, Weekend at Bernie’s.

The main problem with the film is its uneven pacing. The film speeds along on the quest with a funny or silly scene only to slow to a near stop for some forced emotional heart tugs of Ian and his dad’s wish list of regrets.

Onward is a wacky animated adventure that should have stayed on its goofy course. It tries way too hard to force emotional moments that should have blended in more organically.


MPAA Rating: PG (for action/peril and some mild thematic elements)
Release Date: March 6, 2020
Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Dan Scanlon