Two delightfully fantastical but emotionally relatable teenage elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, embark on a mission to bring their father back to life through magic in Disney’s “Onward.” Despite a somewhat unnatural explanation of the initial setting, the Lightfoots’ journey in “Onward” nevertheless deserves praise for its fantastic use of humor and its resonant theme of family.
The movie begins by jumping right into the motivating problem with Ian (Tom Holland) finding a magic cane left by his deceased father Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer). Ian tries to use the cane to conjure his father back to life but only succeeds in bringing half of his father back. Together with his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), Ian must find a way to resolve the mistake before the next day’s sunset, at which point the magic will wear off and he will never be able to see his father again.
Unfortunately for the viewer, the movie does not provide many details about their father’s death or life other than the fact that he was an accountant and had great energy and an enlightening spirit. The lack of detail about the figure who motivates the brothers’ entire quest felt amiss, and had the movie offered greater explanation about their father, it would have created a stronger bond between the audience and the brothers by increasing the audience’s understanding of the premise and sympathy for the characters.
Barley is portrayed as the main funny character in the film and helps lead the movie’s atmosphere of adventure and fun by guiding his shy and introverted younger brother Ian on their mission to completely bring their father back. The Manticore (Octavia Spencer), a creature who aids Ian and Barley on their quest, also uses humor well as she works with the boys’ mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) to find out where her children went and bring them safely back to their home.
Together, Barley and The Manticore help make the movie into one filled not only with excitement and adventure, but also with laughter and smiles that, far from being excessively corny, appeal to viewers of all ages. By mixing fantasy with the mundane, the film produces goofy characters like a centaur police officer and a motorcycle pixie gang, and even the magically powerful Manticore is simultaneously a very human-like restaurant owner.
The movie’s consistent focus on the importance of family also deserves praise. Throughout the movie, Ian becomes frustrated by numerous obstacles to the resurrection of his beloved father. Ian sometimes blames his older brother for being of little help. Barley’s incompetence and inability to focus on the mission — instead, he is distracted by the tokens of magic they use — results in bursts of anger from Ian.
Every time Ian is exhausted and lonely after fighting with his brother, however, his memories of Barley’s brotherly guidance and care in their youth demonstrate that genuine familial love always comes back to him. Toward the end, it is clear that the hero Ian has been searching for all his life was not his father, but his brother Barley. As a result, the focus on family and love help engage viewers throughout the film and leave them genuinely touched at its heartwarming ending.
“Onward” is a satisfying film that certainly managed to captivate its audience. Though relevant and potentially helpful details about Ian and Barley’s father are lacking, the appropriate use of humor and the strong and continuous theme of family mesh excellently to make the film just as lighthearted as it is touching.