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Tom Holland voices Ian Lightfoot, left, and Chris Pratt is the voice of Ian's older brother, Barley, in the Pixar film Onward. Ian is looking to come out of his shell, but it doesn't help when Barley, a loud fanboy of all things magic, jokes around – often at Ian's expense.Disney/Pixar

  • Onward
  • Directed by Dan Scanlon
  • Written by Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin
  • Featuring the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
  • Classification G; 109 minutes


3.5 out of 4 stars

At the end of Disney and Pixar’s Onward, I was suddenly craving cheese puffs. In fact, I even bought a small bag as I headed home, pondering the movie I just saw. The snack isn’t really germane to the story – just a quick plot point in the latter half of the movie. But my purchase reflects the impressive immersive experience of this animated feature. Like other Pixar hits such as WALL-E, Up, Monsters Inc. and the Toy Story series, Onward is a delightful family movie that packs an emotional punch. And, as far as I was concerned, manifests itself in a physical afterthought.

Onward tells the story of teenage elf brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), who embark on a quest to connect with their dead father and rediscover the magic forgotten by the modern, suburban world they live in.

It all starts when Ian turns 16, and decides to come out of his shy and awkward shell, especially after a chance encounter with his dad’s former school friend (Wilmer Valderrama). Ian’s father Wilden died before he was born, and Ian seeks ways to connect with a man he never knew beyond photographs, some family anecdotes and a cassette tape recording of a short, one-sided conversation.

What’s new in theatres this weekend, including the delightful Onward and regrettable Rob Ford film Run This Town

It doesn’t help that his older brother Barley is a loud-mouthed fanboy of all things magic, including a Dungeons & Dragons-like game called Quest of Yore, and likes to joke around with his brother – often unintentionally at Ian’s expense. Their mom, Laurel, (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) does her best to encourage her two sons, while also pursuing a relationship with a centaur police officer Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).

To help the brothers, Laurel brings out a gift that Wilden had left for them – to be opened when both are over 16. It’s an old wizard staff accompanied by a note. Magic had faded away from the fantasy world of Mushroomton, it reads. But Wilden hopes there’s a little magic left in his sons. The note also includes a spell to bring Wilden back to life for 24 hours.

Except the spell sort of misfires. To set things right, the brothers need to work together. Ian has the knack to work the staff, and Barley has the knowledge of magical ways thanks to his Quest of Yore obsession. As the brothers squabble along, they get help from The Manticore a.k.a. Corey (Octavia Spencer), who is part lion, part bat and part scorpion, and inadvertently becomes a part of the adventure as well.

There’s a distinctly eighties vibe to the film, both in terms of its animation and the storytelling that unfolds. This may well be because Onward is inspired directly by writer-director Dan Scanlon’s experience of growing up with his brother, after their father died in a car accident. Scanlon was 1, his brother was 3. Scanlon also had a tape recording of his father saying just two words: hello and goodbye. That personal connection of dealing with grief and bereavement clearly informs the movie. Rather than plumbing into depths of sorrow, however, it offers up lessons in life and love, as the two brothers rediscover the bond that ties them together.

As a parent of two fairly sensitive kids, who prefer to avoid scary movies, I appreciated the gentle and whimsical touch to the magical world conjured up, as well as the quick nods to Lord of the Rings. Another plus? No overt attempts to add jokes for the parents accompanying the children. Just a good, solid and tight script that was brought alive by all the cast members, no matter how small their part.

Go and watch the wonders of Onward. Just stay away from the cheese puffs afterwards.

Onward opens March 6

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