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Onward movie review

November 19, 2021

ONWARD — 2020 dir: Dan Scanlon  

Disney/Pixar have had the niche on CGI animated films over the past 25yrs and while other film studios have produced some fun, entertaining and memorable family/kids animated product, it appears that Disney/Pixar collaborations tend to take the pip. They have a certain knack to get the magic mix just right.

Onward is about magic at its core, (or the loss of magic), and while this fantasy element is relevant to the plot, it is never allowed to take over and become trite or over-baked for the sake of the emotional connection and bonding theme between two elf brothers, Barley and Ian Lightfoot.

The elf world Barley and Ian reside in, is presented as a parallel universe to our human one, full of wonderful colour with traditional folklore, fairy-tale and mythological trimmings. It’s a familiar rendition of what this universe has represented in classic stories and made relatable with human attributes given to the fantasy drawn characters and situations with our own era appropriate conventionalities and trappings.

Barley and Ian live with their caring and good-natured mother Laurel. Their father passed away when Barley was young, and Ian wasn’t born. Barley is exuberant in personality, good-natured like his mother and comes across as over-confident, (which is explained throughout the narrative), and in a slight twist on sibling relationships, is seen by Ian as the annoying and obnoxious “older” brother, instead of the other way round. Ian is more aloof, anxious and has trouble expressing himself, he also thinks of Barley as a bit of a “screw-up” as coined in the film.

On Ian’s 16th birthday, Laurel gives her son a letter from their father. It contains a spell that the father wrote, (who has been connected via lineage to the magic world of the lost past), which will bring him back for one day only. Part of Ian’s disenchantment with his life is that he never knew his dad like Barley did. Barley is into Dungeons and Dragon type games and understands how to traverse the wonders and perils of this mystical game’s rules, it is Ian however who can perform the actual magic that has eluded Barley.

In one of Barley’s “screw-ups”, Ian only manages to materialize the lower half of their father from the waist down. It becomes a “Sorry dad!” scenario and Barley and Ian set off on an adventure to fulfill the magic spell and bring back their entire father with the short time they will have left with him.

There are many humorous moments in the film, a lot involving the lower half of their dad and along the way revelations are revealed from both brothers, how they perceive each other, how they work in with each other, how they need to trust each other and more importantly the “purpose” and dynamic of their brotherly relationship.

Without being overly sentimental and mushy, within its themes of courage, acceptance and love, Onward manages to find the right balance of pathos and inspiration and it comes fully rounded with a well thought out denouement regarding the father’s presence that I found quite perfect.   

Bond Library Movie Reviewer – Darren Cunningham