Onward: Yet Another Fantastical Win for Pixar

Pixar has proven themselves time and time again as being one of the greatest film studios of all time (the Cars sequels notwithstanding). Their newest outing, Onward, continues the tradition of excellence. When people think of animated films, they normally think they are kid films, however, Pixar consistently delivers great animated adventures meant for adults but are entirely kid friendly. With the typical Pixar charm, Onward is a heart-warming and tear-jerking tale that continues the tradition of setting out to touch the hearts of adults while providing a fun family adventure that anyone can sit back and enjoy.  

Chris Pratt’s Barley Lightfoot and Tom Holland’s Ian Lightfoot in Onward (2020). Via Disney/Pixar

Onward takes place in a fantasy world filled with magical creatures that find no use for magic as electricity allowed everyone to have basic comforts without the need of it. The story of Onward follows an elf named Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his RPG-loving brother, Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt). On Ian’s sixteenth birthday, his mother (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gifts him and Barley a magic staff left to them by their father who passed before Ian was born. However, Ian messes up a spell to bring their father back for a single day and they are only left with the bottom half of their dad’s body. Desperately wishing to see their father, Ian and Barley set out on a quest to find a Phoenix Gem, a magical gem that will allow them to complete the spell before their twenty-four hours with their dad run out.

The very premise of this film is heartwarming, but it is even more so when you hear about why the director, Dan Scanlon, wanted to make this film. The story goes that Dan’s father died when he was one and his brother was three years-old, and through the lack of having a father, Dan and his brother became incredibly close. When they were both teenagers a relative gave them a recording of their dad’s voice that simply said hello and goodbye. Thus, the springboard into the premise of Onward. Pixar is not a stranger to telling deeply personal stories, and the personality and heart behind the project is made abundantly clear when watching the film.

Octavia Spenser’s The Manticore and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Laurel Lightfoot in Onward (2020). Via Disney/Pixar

The story of Onward is complimented very well with the voice talents and the animation. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt bring such a kinetic, yet endearing, energy to their voice overs that it makes all the emotion all-the-more tangible. The auxiliary voice roles are also very well done, specifically Mel Rodriguez as centaur-officer/stepfather Colt Bronco and Octavia Spenser as The Manticore. All of the voice work is amazingly done specifically complimented by the crisp animation. Pixar has a very distant artistic style that you can look at and just tell that it is a Pixar film, but as each Pixar film comes and goes, the art style is further developed and refined and leaves the audience gawking at the visual achievement.

While Onward is not quite as heart wrenching as previous outings from the studio—Toy Story 3 (2010), Coco (2017), and Up (2009) to name a few—and it does seem a little predictable at times, it still offers an incredible adventure that will warm the hearts and mist the eyes of even the coldest of viewers. The track record of Pixar continues to dominate and here’s hoping that their other project coming this year, Soul, can live up to the incredible bar set by Onward.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.


Onward is rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements.

ALSO, the short that plays before Onward is Disney’s official welcoming of The Simpsons into the Mouse House. As someone who is not the biggest fan of The Simpsons, I must say, the short is incredible.

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