Onward (2020)

Now, I don’t know about you, but even in a period of blanket news coverage about one very specific thing, I find it weird to think that I didn’t have a single clue what Onward was. I hadn’t even heard of it! That is until I stood outside the cinema, saw the poster and thought, “Ah, what the hell, it’ll kill two hours.” Hardly the sort of thing I would have expected to say about the latest family-friendly Pixar film – the very same studio behind all the greatest and most challenging tear-jerker films out there!

And yet, here I am. Without a single clue what to expect, I took my seat in a near-empty cinema and watched Onward. 

And. It. Was. Awesome.

Directed by Monsters University’s Dan Scanlon, Onward introduces us to a world inhabited by mythical creatures, of magic and adventure. Well. Sort of. See, magic is all well and good – but it is a little tricky to master, so, naturally, when electricity was invented, well.. magic took a backseat. Fast forward to the relative modern era, and the world looks very familiar to our own.

Oh, sure, we have blue elves mingling with goblins and centaurs, and sure, dragons live in people’s houses while the feral unicorns eat out of bins, but really the world isn’t so different to our own. Introducing Ian Lightfoot, an uneasy and reclusive teenager on his 16th birthday. He lives with his mother, Laurel, and older brother, Barley, in the town of New Mushroomton, along with their mum’s new centaur boyfriend, Colt Bronco.

See, Ian and Barley’s father died when Ian was just a baby, leaving Barley with only a handful of memories of him, but all is not lost. Now Ian has turned 16, Laurel presents to the two brothers a special package left for them by their father. Inside the wrapping is a magical staff, a rare gem and a letter with the magic words for a ‘Visitation spell,’ promising that by combining the items, the boys will be able to resurrect their father for just one day. 

Having spent his life reading role-play game rulebooks, Barley naturally takes his turn with the staff – but it is only when Ian speaks the magic words that the spell comes to life. Ian, it turns out, has the power within him to wield magic – and sure enough, he attempts the visitation spell and manages to summon.. half.. of their father before the fractured crystal explodes.

With only their father’s legs, Ian and Barley set off on a quest to recover a second crystal to complete the spell – and are soon setting off for the mountains in Barley’s trusted steed.. or.. van, Guinevere, by way of the mystical Manticore for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to meet their father and show them what they have become. What follows is a suburban fantasy adventure with some extremely funny takes on the classic DnD formula.

I can’t really stress how blown away I am about Onward. For a film that I had barely heard of, that no one is talking about, Onward plays on the classic Pixar formula with some seriously well written jokes, in an interesting world that – for what it’s worth – is actually brimming with voice talent. Chris Pratt as Barley, as ever, absolutely nails his part. Tom Holland as Ian does a fine job, but there really is nothing to complain about with this film.

If anything, I’d go as far as to say that Onward is to boys what Frozen is to girls. That isn’t a comment on the audience, more that sisterly – and indeed brotherly love, can be just as important as finding The One, or even, as is the case in Onward.. the love of a parent.

Onward is exceptional. And though you can’t see it in the cinema now, it will be added to Disney+’s ever growing line up. Is it enough for me to subscribe? No. But it might just tip the balance..


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