“Onward” tells the story of brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland), left, and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt). (Courtesy Disney/Pixar)

“Onward” tells the story of brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland), left, and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt). (Courtesy Disney/Pixar)

Pixar’s ‘Onward’ a fun fantasy romp

Animated feature succeeds Despite Disney ‘dead parent’ trope

By Katie Walsh

Tribune News Service

“Onward,” the newest animated adventure from Disney/Pixar, brings mainstream representation to a group previously relegated to the margins of pop culture: the fantasy-obsessed metalhead.

In this warm tale of brotherly love forged during an epic coming-of-age quest, Chris Pratt voices older bro Barley, a burly elf in a battle vest with an affinity for generically branded versions of Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering.

In his trusty steed Guinevere, an old van airbrushed with Pegasus (which Pixar may or may not have stolen from a Bay Area artist, pending an intellectual property lawsuit), Barley blasts heavy metal tunes about wizards and beasts and magic.

But this isn’t Barley’s story; it’s the story of his younger brother, Ian (Tom Holland), a shy young elf who discovers that he does, indeed, have a little magic in him.

In this world of fantasy creatures (elves, pixies, ogres, centaurs), magic has gone out of fashion, replaced with electricity and appliances, the magical beings having settled into a comfortable suburban domesticity.

Ian has all the issues of any awkward teenager: an overbearing brother, crippling social anxiety, his mom’s boyfriend is a cop. Also, he longs for a connection to his father, who died before he was born.

On his 16th birthday, a dejected Ian receives a gift from his father: a wizard staff and spell bestowed to both brothers with the hopes they can conjure up Dad for one more day. The brothers bungle it, bringing him only halfway back; they manage to manifest his legs before the rare Phoenix gem explodes.

In hopes of completing the spell before he disappears at the next sunset, the brothers hit the road for an old-fashioned quest.

The premise makes “Onward” potentially the most morbid example of the Disney Dead Parents trope — the easy shortcut right to emotional stakes for the young characters, creating the potent blend of tear-jerking and cutesy, culturally relevant humor.

Yet “Onward” literally embodies the ever-present longing for a lost loved one, as Ian and Barley drag their father’s sentient legs with them on their search, with Ian hoping for one moment with the father he never knew, and Barley looking for closure.

If you can get over the sheer emotional terrorism contained in those legs, “Onward” is a fun romp with creative and clever world-building. Like any good adventure story, it’s clear that it’s never about the destination, but the journey itself.

Coming from the Pixar poignancy factory, it’s no surprise that “Onward” plucks the right heartstrings to produce many laughs, and many tears, too.




Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt (voices)

Written by: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin

Directed by: Dan Scanlon Rated: PG

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Movies and TV

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Students in an after-school community hub move quickly through a social circle as they play a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Parents scramble for ‘Summer Together’ spaces

City program offering free camps sees high demand, confusion over enrollment

The San Francisco Giants celebrate team legend Willie Mays' 90th birthday before taking on the San Diego Padres at Oracle Park on May 7, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Willie Mays returns to the ballpark for a special birthday bash

Giants celebrate No. 24’s 90th in an intimate party for a few thousand friends

Legislation introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting has expanded the range of people who can request a gun violence restraining order against someone. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Use of gun violence restraining orders continues to rise

For the fourth year in a row, the number of gun violence… Continue reading

The Port of San Francisco, which controls much of the The City’s waterfront, faces potential layoffs due to a financial crisis caused by the pandemic. 
Steven Ho/
Special to S.F. Examiner
In a financial ‘crisis,’ SF Port officials lobby for stimulus funding

Looking to right their financial ship, Port of San Francisco officials are… Continue reading

Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday said a rebranding and reoganization of the former Gang Task Force amounts to “more than just the name change.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Faced with surge in shootings, Chief Scott reenvisions SFPD’s Gang Task Force

New Community Violence Reduction Team adds officers with community-policing experience

Most Read