‘Onward’ Review – Bit of Magic Can Do Wonders


There was a very mesmerizing line in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), “It’s all these people talking about how great technology is, and how it saves all this time. But, what good is saved time, if nobody uses it?” Though we are a generation of technically sane people, we have totally forgotten our own abilities, by relying on technology. While Onward feels like a deeply personal film about an elvish boy missing his deceased dad, socially it comments on how we have totally forgotten the magic inside us, by not exploring it, as we are too busy with the gadgets around us.

Onward produced by Pixar Animation Studios, incorporates many fascinating fantasy characters like elves, dragons, and many more which are really eye-catching and sparkling.  It nestles on a heartbreaking premise: the possibility of being able to spend just one more day with a parent who has passed away. Though strengthened by emotions, it has a lot of magic in it, which keeps one entertained throughout. So lets Hocus-Pocus.

‘Onward’ Summary

Onward tells the story of two elves, blue-haired brothers living with their widowed mother in suburbia that was once full of magic.  The film starts with a colourful montage of how alluring our world was, filled with wonder and magic but soon all disappeared when man started inventing gadgets. Onward then rolls on to present modern-day, where Ian (Tom Holland), who has turned 16 today is hoping to make some new friends and inviting them to his birthday party. Ian has a sort of checklist which he wants to fulfill, and one of them is spending time with his Dad. Ian’s elder brother, Barley (Chris Pratt) is an adventurous loving guy who is a little too sentimental and nerdy about magic and never misses a chance to talk about it. He drives a Scooby-Doo kinda Van around painted with a unicorn, to go on adventures, in pursuit to find the magic one day. 

Despite their inherent differences, the two have like-able chemistry. When Barley tells Ian, “There’s a mighty warrior inside of you, you just have to let him out,” you know the words came out of authentic kindness between the brothers. For the whole film, it’s hilarious to see Spiderman (Tom) and Star-Lord (Chris) playing pranks and pampering each other in an alternate universe.

The brother’s duo gets a chance to fulfill their adventurer aspirations when their mom reveals a secret to them, one she was meant to hold onto until Ian’s 16th birthday: Their father left an ancient staff and a rare gem to place on top of it. It will help them to bring his dad back for 24 hours but they could only perform the spell once. However, in their boyish excitement, they ruin the spell by reading only half of it, resulting in their father appearing from the waist down as just a pair of khakis and shoes. To have the most time with their dad, the brother pursues a magical journey to make their dad whole. Ian wishes to see his dad once and this is his only chance.

What follows ahead is a whimsical journey filled where the two brothers bond together in scenes that make you chuckle naturally. Among their many stops is a family-friendly tavern, the manager, a once-powerful Manticore (Octavia Spencer), who has lost her touch. She ends up getting sucked into the quest, along with Ian and Barley’s mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a subplot that feels wedged in and does both of these supremely talented actresses a disservice. Manticore and Laurel’s bonding is itself a whacky ride, where Manticore’s geekish character and Laurel’s sleeve demeanor acts like a Yin-Yang, with a lot of rib-tickling lines like when Manticore asks, “your sons aren’t afraid of danger?”, To which Laurel replies, “One is afraid of everything and one isn’t afraid of anything.

The cinematic end of the film portrays a glorified entity fighting against the brother, gradually shifting tear-eyed conclusions with a message (Pixar movies without a message, never heard of it).

Message in ‘Onward’

Onward perfectly portrays the missing essence of magic in our life, without overdoing it, which paves the way to make the characters human, and thus not relying on magic for every petty conflict. This approach shows their vulnerability, and thus we equate with them emotionally. Even, one of my favourite line in the film says,

“With a little bit of magic, you can do anything.”

The phrase has “little” in it, which itself demonstrates the intention of the makers, that you only need a little bit of magic in your life, more or less would make it less effective, and it is wonderfully incorporated thematically in the film.

As discussed earlier, Pixar and Disney movies are often centered around a message, like a moral of the story. I think, watching these movies and getting the message right, is what keeps the kid inside us alive. Onward discusses a lot of things, but through it’s cinematic yet emotional ending, unspokenly speaks a message, that most of our bonding lies in memories. It’s not in the present that we miss people, but in the memories, and I guess, that is why we create memories, to miss people. Though the more intriguing point underlined here is, memories don’t need to have a face or tag of the person we created them with, but the essence of it. Thus, the memories of a father could be created with a big brother too, if he is protective like your dad, it doesn’t have to be your dad certainly, it could be anyone who makes you feel protected and guides you. For Ian, it was Barley all along, and that leads to the emotional realization in the end. 

Onward is a funny yet emotional take on bonding between brothers and filling the gap of a deceased father. If you want to laugh, cherish adore some characters and go along on an adventure, then it is really the film you should watch out for. I am confident, it won’t disappoint you, even for a bit.

Onward is an animated adventure film directed and co-written by Dan Scanlon who probably was aiming to share an intimate piece of his childhood. The film is available on Disney+

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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