Onward: A Fun, Touching Film That Bows Out a Bit Too Early (Review)


Credit to Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar and Koby Haldorson

Koby Haldorson, Entertainment Editor, Staff Writer


This review will contain story spoilers for Disney•Pixar’s Onward.


When Pixar first announced Onward alongside their next film Soul, I was intrigued. A Pixar-produced urban-fantasy film sounded quite interesting. It revolves around two brothers, Ian and Barley, as they try to complete the spell that can bring their father back for a single day. 


Onward and Soul seem to be part of a new generation of Pixar, one that arguably began with Inside Out. Since 2016, Pixar has released a few sequel films—Finding Dory, Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4—and while they’re not bad movies, they lacked the sort of creative luster that all Pixar movies have. 


Conversely, Pixar also produced Inside Out, Coco and Onward (with Soul on the horizon). These are some of Pixar’s most creative and unique films since Toy Story, Ratatouille or Wall•E. Onward is merely another really good Pixar film that represents the company continuously producing great films with original ideas—something that faltered with the “sequel age” of 2016 to 2019. 



As I mentioned, the story begins with a not-so-confident elf named Ian, and his boisterous, oblivious but well-meaning older brother, Barley. We learn that Ian’s birthday is soon, and on the eve of his 16th birthday, the duo’s mother reveals that their father left them a gift before he pass away—one that should be given when both are older than 16. 


The gift is a magical staff, along with a spell describing how to bring their father back for a single day. Barley, who’s obsessed with a Dungeons and Dragons-type game and all things magical, tries to enact the spell to no avail. Hours pass with no progress, before the brothers and their mother give up, presuming the magic to no longer be there. 


Despite the magical nature of the world, it’s shown that magic fell to the wayside as advancements similar to our world (electricity, cars, etc.) were widely adopted, as magic was too difficult for the average creature to learn, much less master. 


A bit later, Ian reads the spell, sad that it didn’t work. This causes the staff, and the Phoenix Gem that powers it, to begin the spell. The spell starts to bring their father back, but fails halfway through, when only the legs had been conjured. Ian shows Barley what’s happened and he decides that the pair need to go on an epic quest to find another Phoenix Gem to finish the spell. 


They rush off with the bottom half of their father to find the Manticore, a winged lion/scorpion hybrid who was once a battle-hardened warrior, only to discover she’s turned her once-famous tavern into a family friendly chain-restaurant-type establishment. 


That’s where I’ll leave the story, as I think the movie should be watched to fully enjoy the plot and the reveals it contains. 



The cast of characters are what really make Onward special. Despite the thrilling adventure the two leads go on, the relationship between brothers Ian (played by Tom Holland) and Barley (played by Chris Pratt), and the fun side characters we meet along the way, is what truly excels the film to being a quality Pixar film. 


Tom Holland and Chris Pratt both do an excellent job portraying their characters—Holland as Ian, who becomes more confident through the movie, and Pratt as Barley, who learns to be more considerate of those around him. Ultimately the two bond greatly through the film’s course, and go from being at frequent odds with each other to being closer than ever. 


As they progress through their epic quest to find another Phoenix Gem, the two are clearly growing closer and bonding over the journey. Even when they face adversity, when Ian has to admit in front of Barley that he thinks he’s a slacker screw-up, he later apologizes to Barley, though Barley’s self-confrontation of these thoughts about him drives him to be a more courageous, take-charge person, while also putting others before him. 


Even side characters have excellent growth. The gang of aggressive motorcycle pixies that chase Ian and Barley learn to use their wings and take flight like their ancestors. Ian and Barley’s step-father, Bronco (a centaur) forgoes constantly using his police car and decides to try and get in shape by running like the centaurs did in the world’s former magical state. Even the Manticore decides to remodel her restaurant and return it to its roots as a tavern, entertaining customers with her adventures as a young Manticore. 


And of course, Onward looks just as beautiful as all other recent Pixar films have. It’s one of the most visually stunning animated films I’ve seen in a very long time. The amount of detail on everything in the environments, the characters, hair, grass, everything is gorgeous. Pixar’s next film Soul looks even more beautiful, which is quite honestly par for the course with Pixar movies these days—they all look gorgeous and none of them are truly bad films, even the worst like Finding Dory or Cars 2


However, while I enjoyed the film, I don’t think it was quite as excellent as films like Coco, The Incredibles or Toy Story. It felt quiet contained at times. The cast of characters wasn’t small, and it wasn’t big. There are really four main characters, Ian, Barley, their mother, their step-father and the Manticore. I would’ve liked to have seen a few more prominently featured characters outside of those, but given the very contained story, it makes sense that the central cast of characters would be small. 


The central story never veered off into unnecessary territory, but there were times where it slowed down and I thought could’ve been a bit sped up, however, the film is already quite short at one hour and forty-two minutes, so there really wouldn’t be much left to cut. 


When comparing Onward’s plot to the plots of its Pixar’s other recent films, such as Coco, Inside Out, even Toy Story 4, Onward feels more akin to the classic era of Pixar—it almost has a similar storytelling style to Cars or Wall•E, where it tells a contained, tighter story, while also maintaining a consistent level of background world-building.  


While I wouldn’t say it’s the best of Pixar’s recent work (I think Coco and Inside Out are far better), it’s certainly a quality addition to their catalogue, and everything about the film is quite endearing and touching. 


Overall, I enjoyed Onward. It feels like a return to classic Pixar in the best ways possible. 


Onward just continues to show that they still have the ability to tell original, excellent, touching stories, and it proves that they’re still the same Pixar we all fell in love with in 1995. 


Final Score: 7.5/10 

Onward is rated PG and is available for digital purchase now. It will also be streaming on Disney+ on April 3rd.