ONWARD Teaser Movie Poster | ©2020 Pixar/Walt Disney

ONWARD Teaser Movie Poster | ©2020 Pixar/Walt Disney

Rating: PG
Stars (voices): Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez
Writers: Dan Scanlon & Jason Headley & Keith Bunin
Director: Dan Scanlon
Distributor: Walt Disney
Release Date: March 6, 2020

ONWARD is the latest offering from the combined forces of Pixar and Disney. The animated fantasy is consistently entertaining, funny, well-structured, and surprisingly deft in its handling of emotional issues.

We are introduced to the world (and it’s literally a different world than ours – note the two moons in the sky) of ONWARD by Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland). Ian is a sixteen-year-old elf living in the town of New Mushroom. The houses all have mushroom-shaped roofs, the family pet is a cuddly dragon, and feral unicorns fight over garbage can scraps. However, as Ian explains to us, thanks to the invention of technology a few generations ago, magic has fallen out of use. Now elves, giants, pixies, centaurs and the like use cars and electricity. Nobody knows how to cast spells or fly anymore.

ONWARD Movie Poster | ©2020 Pixar/Walt Disney

ONWARD Movie Poster | ©2020 Pixar/Walt Disney

Ian’s slacker older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt), however, would love to see magic come back. Barley plays this world’s version of Dungeons and Dragons, a fairly close match to D&D as we know it (the game’s parent company is thanked in the closing credits). The two brothers both live with their widowed mom Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Barley has a few memories of Dad; Ian was still a toddler when their father passed away. However, thanks to a gift to be opened when both boys are over sixteen, it turns out that they may be able to resurrect their father for twenty-four hours. As those who have seen the ONWARD trailer know, their initial effort only half-works. Timid Ian and reckless Barley embark on a time-sensitive quest to get the missing ingredient to complete the spell.

Given what the stakes are, there are any number of ways for the finale to go wrong. Director Dan Scanlon and his co-writers Jason Headley & Keith Bunin have somehow figured out exactly what to do. Their solution is touching without being overwhelming, family-affirming without negating anything they’ve set up.

And the set-up is pretty glorious. ONWARD skillfully treads the line between the mundane and the fantastic. Recognizable concepts, objects and establishments are given just enough twist to make them amusingly suitable to the film’s universe. The quest is perilous enough to have thrills and non-traumatic scares.

Holland and Pratt sound convincingly like teens, Louis-Dreyfus is properly motherly, and Octavia Spencer is delightful as the Manticore, a mythic being who has lost touch with her essential ferocity.

There’s a fair amount of “to thine own self be true” spirit here. This, its familial warmth, smart sense of humor and solid structure all make ONWARD a movie well worth the attention of viewers of all ages.

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