‘Onward’ Movie Review: Chris Pratt and Tom Holland Share Pixarly Brotherly Love

In the real world, technology made real the stuff of magic. A few hundred years ago, people could only imagine flying on fictional creatures like dragons. A few decades ago, it would take a wizard to have instant access to libraries of information and entertainment. In a world where magic did exist, technology actually makes it more mundane. That is the subject of Pixar’s latest animated film Onward, featuring the voices of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland as Barley and Ian
L-R: Ian (voice of Tom Holland) and Barley (voice of Chris Pratt) | Disney/Pixar

Of course, Onward is about more than a theme, but it’s a theme that makes the adventure richer, like the best Pixar movies. There are plenty of laughs and heart, although nothing quite as heartbreaking as Jessie’s song in Toy Story 2 or the montage in Up.

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland go ‘Onward’

Ian (voice of Tom Holland) explains how his world of mythical creatures had magic, but they invented technology. Now a world of elves, fairies, centaurs and other creatures live in cities and use cell phones and the internet just like us. 

Tom Holland voices Ian in Onward
Ian listens to an old recording of his father | Disney/Pixar

Ian is celebrating his 16th birthday. He’s still too shy to invite school friends to his party. He still misses his father, who died of illness when he was little. Ian’s mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives Ian a gift his father left for when both their sons were 16. It’s a Wizard Staff and Phoenix Gem with a spell that can bring their father back for one day. It only brings back his legs though.

So Ian and his stay at home older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) go on a quest to find another Phoenix Gem to complete the spell. They only have until sunrise because the clock is already ticking from the first spell.

‘Onward’ brings back the magic

Barley plays fantasy role playing games involving dungeons and fire breathing creatures, although it’s not a name brand game. Even though magic and creatures are real in the world of Onward, the modern day realizations let Barley down. It’s relevant that technology and adult society demystify the magic of the world. It’s inspiring that every time Ian and Barley visit a modern day bastardization of true magic, they bring the creatures back to their magical roots. 

Onward: Octavia Spencer as the Manticore
Octavia Spencer voices the Manticore | Disney/Pixar

It is funny to see mythic creatures in modern day. The warrior Manticore (Octavia Spencer) is now hawking her image as a family restaurant manager. Biker fairies are a hoot and get the biggest laughs in Onward. Ian and Barley’s adventure covers wonderful, inventive set pieces with modern fantasy creatures. Ian also learns to believe in himself along the way. 

The variety of creatures in Onward is impressive too. Big beefy creatures share the screen with thin, spry ones and the animators make it a cohesive world. It’s reminiscent of Zootopia where the largest and tiniest creatures coexisted in a thriving world. 

Another Pixar movie that will make you cry

Bittersweet is built right into the premise. There’s no chance of a happily ever after since the spell only lasts 24 hours. So even in success, Ian and Barley are only going to get a short time to see their father again, but who wouldn’t take that opportunity should the magic exist?

It’s the Before Sunrise of daddy issues. What do you do with your time when you only have a few hours with somebody? It is a beautiful, touching story that should resonate with anyone who doesn’t get a 24 hour do over. 

Chris Pratt voices Barley in Onward
Chris Pratt voices Barley | Disney/Pixar

The half father is a fully realized character too. The pants are expressive with the legs tapping and touching with his feet. Ian and Barley have business to try to complete the spell, but they share heartwarming moments with the pants along the way. 

Any one element of Onward would make an outstanding movie. A modern day magical world is worth exploring for 90 minutes. The quest with magic spells and booby traps to overcome would be a fine adventure. Even the brothers resolving their family issues would be worthwhile drama too. Leave it to Pixar to do all three and excel at each one.