The latest film from Disney is the fantasy adventure Onward. Starring Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as elf brothers Ian and Barley respectively. They live in a world where there was once magic but that has faded away due to the introduction of industrilisation.
Unicorns are no longer the beautiful beasts of myth, they are instead now the equivalent to magical racoons. Dragons are pets and are far less deadly than they once were and magic itself is seen as part of a bigone era that this world has moved on from.
Apart from the fact that everyone is a different mythical race there is no magic in this world. It’s quite mundane. The only person who holds onto it is Barley who plays his DnD style game because it is an awesome game based on historical facts.
He’s a bit of a loose cannon but he’s an affable fool. Ian on the other hand is a neurautic mess of a teen. He finds it hard to talk to people. His main issue boils down to not taking risks. He’s a nice kid and clearly has it in him but he has no confidence. Ian believes that if he could learn more about his father who has sadly passed years before the event of the film he will magically be a better person. The reason is he hears so many amazing things about his dad and he feels that is a part of his life and himself a person is missing.
Onward to adventure
As the film opens Ian is having his 16th birthday and he is having a particularly hard day. So to cheer him up Ian and Barley’s mom, Laurel (played with aplumb by the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives him a present from his dad that is meant for both Ian and Barley when they both were over 16. This gift?
A magical staff complete with a resurrection spell that will allow Ian and Barley to see their dad for 24 hours. When the spell is activated it doesn’t go to plan and they are left with only the bottom half of their dad. They learn that there is another spell ingredient left and with it they could complete the spell and so with only 24 hours before their dad disappears forever they are off on a great quest.
As I write this review I wondered how I could convey how much this film meant to me and I think the best way to explain it is this: I’m tearing up as I remember the relationships between the characters and the message of the story.
Onward is devastatingly emotional. Anyone who has lost someone and is looking for that cathartic final moment with them will be moved to tears early on this film. Not only that if you have a sibling who has been there for you through thick and thin you’ll also connect with Ian and Barley. I suppose what I’m trying to get across is if family is important to you this film will live with you.
Orcs, elves, and manticores oh my
Another fascinating element of Onward is the world. It starts off as your usual modern day version of a fantasy realm that audiences have become used to these days on television and film but when Ian and Barley meet these magical beings that have left the life behind they awaken their old ways and as Ian becomes more confident in himself his confidence brings out the magic in everyone else.
Case in point is the Manticore this legendary warrior who has pawned her monster slaying blade and owns a Chuck E. Cheese-esque restaraunt. When she meets the boys she is defanged and withdrawn but then Ian stokes the fires and she remembers her passion and it’s a potent message. She then joins their mom on their own adventure and if I’m being honest that deserved a film unto itself due to the comedic talent of Octavia Spencer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Much like the denizens of the film Ian and Barley also change the world around them bringing out more of its magical elements. They find ancient ruins, beautiful lush mountaintops and a trap filled dungeon laden with monstrous beasts and it’s a sight to behold.
This is also thanks to the quality cinematography and animation. Onward is a beautiful film and as the film gets more magical it looks more impressive.
If there were any issues with the film is that Pratt plays it a little too buffoonish sometimes and it edges towards cringe but the film offers him more to do as it comes to its climax.
There and back again
Ultimately it boils down to this – Onward is the adventure children of all ages will enjoy. Its emotional beats hit you where you live with heartwarming relationships and magical characters. A near-perfect film.
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