Onward: Pixar’s Best Film? 

Disney Pixar’s Onward was one of the first movie releases affected by the pandemic. Luckily, it had already opened in theaters before the shutdown. After quarantine began, Disney decided to release Onward directly to the streaming service Disney+. Many people viewed this movie for the first time in the comfort of their own home. Onward is a light-hearted adventure with a wonderful blend of magic, comedy, and family, rolled into a charming coming-of-age tale. Directed by Dan Scanlon, Onward maintains a classic Pixar feel, while still incorporating contemporary elements. This film stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as Ian and Barley Lightfoot, two elf brothers. The film also stars Octavia Spencer as the Manticore and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as Laurel Lightfoot.  

Onward is set in an alternate universe, in which mythical creatures live similar lives to humans. On Ian’s sixteenth birthday his mother reveals a gift from his deceased father: a wizard’s staff, a phoenix gem, and a spell to bring him back to life for one day. As these things often do, when the boys try to cast the spell it goes terribly wrong, leaving them with only their dad’s legs. The brothers realize they have twenty-four hours to find another phoenix gem and complete the spell. So, Barley and Ian set off on a quest, dragging their dad’s legs along. On their journey, they encounter unexpected challenges, allies, and foes. Among these, a very angry batch of pixies, a fleet of cops hot on their tail, and the infamous Gelatinous Cube. When Ian and Barley’s mother discovers they’re missing, she sets out to find them, teaming up with the famed Manticore. The film takes classic adventure tale tropes and gives them a unique flare. For instance, the boys encounter a bottomless pit they must cross, but instead of the collapsing rickety bridge, Ian casts a spell to create an invisible one. This helps Ian learn to believe in himself and gives Barley an opportunity to be his best loving, supportive self. Onward is packed with unexpected twists and turns from start to finish. The adventure provides many instances that test both Ian and Barley’s character as well as their relationship with each other. Such as, their dispute over which path to take to the phoenix gem.  The film rises to an exciting climax and ends with a heart-warming and clever resolution.  

Excellent animation is always expected of Pixar films, and Onward does not disappoint. The film uses a cool color scheme of purples and blues as a base throughout, giving it a pleasant feel. The animation is immersive and instantly pulls the viewer in. Despite being set in a mythical world, the backgrounds and scenery are strikingly realistic. The spells and magic are all lovely to watch, too. The firework spell, cast in the opening sequence as well as by Ian in the later parts of the film, consists of a shower of colorful sparks and is especially beautiful. Onward may not be quite as visually stunning as Finding Nemo or The Good Dinosaur, but it still is a beautiful film. 

Easily the most compelling part of this film is Ian and Barley. Both characters have amazing character development and the most adorable relationship with each other. Ian starts out as very shy and reserved. With Barley’s help, he comes out of his shell and bravely succeeds at things he didn’t think he could. Ian also learns to relax and go with the flow more. Barley learns how to be a better big brother and make sacrifices for his family. One of the best scenes is the hysterical car chase Ian and Barley find themselves in. Ian has never really driven before but is thrown right out onto a busy freeway. This scene shows Ian being brave and Barley being an amazing big brother as he encourages and instructs Ian as he drives. Barley is about as supportive as you can get. When he learns Ian can do magic, he is so happy for him. Barley even trains Ian to be a mage, when he could have easily been jealous. Ian takes Barley for granted at first, but by the end he realizes how important Barley is to him. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt deliver this dynamic perfectly.  

Onward blends lighthearted funny moments with more dramatic, emotional ones very well. Barley provides most of the comedy throughout the film, but the side characters are entertaining too.  Throughout their quest, Ian and Barley’s dad supplies just the right amount of slapstick; it is enjoyable but not over-the-top. One of the most hilarious and heart-warming moments is Barley, Ian, and their dad’s mini dance party. The film actually has a very sad concept, but the comedy dilutes it enough that you only feel sad when the writers want you to. There are several tense moments between Ian and Barley that build suspense nicely. These times of tension are often followed with lighter segments, creating a nice balance.  

Onward is a great family movie that will appeal to all ages. Between the magic, adventure, comedy, family, and gorgeous animation, Onward has something for everyone. It’s hard to make comparisons between this film and others because it is so original both for Pixar and just in general. Of other Pixar films, Onward is most like Up because of the adventure and family aspects. The magic has a little bit of a The Sword in the Stone feel to it, as well. If you love Pixar or just animation in general, this film is definitely worth a watch. This movie would be a great one to watch with siblings, too. Onward has a unique flare, but anyone who likes a classic quest will certainly enjoy this movie. Overall, Onward is a wild, fun, heart-warming ride. It is one of Pixar’s best films, and deserves a 4.5 out of 5-star rating.  

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