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Movie Review: “Onward”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

Theatrical Release: 3/6/2020

Theatrical Release: 3/6/2020


Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) lost their father when they were young. Barley Lightfoot is the older brother, and he is old enough to have at least some memories of their father. Ian Lightfoot on the other hand, was too young when their father died, so unfortunately does not have any memories of him. Ian's birthday is approaching, and before he died, Ian and Barley's father left a gift with his wife Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) for her to give to their son Ian on his 16th birthday.

The gift was a wizard's staff. While everyone thought that magic had long since left the world, the staff that their father left Ian is proof that magic is still very much alive. Their father also left behind a spell, which if performed correctly, would bring him back from the dead for 24 hours. Ian has always felt the burden of having no memory of his father, but now he has the opportunity of a lifetime. He tries performing the spell, but it does not go according to plan. Ian only managed to resurrect the lower half of his father's body, but their father's 24 hour time limit has begun. Fortunately, Barley has studied magic his whole life, and he has a plan to finish the spell. It will require locating a special crystal, so they set out on an adventure to find it, but if they are not able to do so within 24 hours, they will lose their only shot to reunite with their father.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

Ian & Barley (+8pts)

The Manticore (-2pts)

The Adventure & The Dad (+8pts)

Colt Bronco (-2pts)

The World & The Magic (+4pts)

Predictable & Convenient (-5pts)


Pro: Ian & Barley (+8pts)

I really liked Ian and Barley's story. One brother—Barley—was an eccentric fantasy nerd. He was the older brother, he had a handful of memories of his father, he loved his beat-up old van, and he was passionate about the world of magic. Unfortunately, he could not use magic himself, but he was happy living vicariously through his little brother. The other brother—Ian—had no memory of his father, he was a shy kid, and he was embarrassed by his older brother. He was not into magic and fantasy, but the brothers quickly realized that Ian had the gift and was able to perform magic with their father's staff.

Thus, there was one brother who remembered their father and knew everything there was to know about magic, and there was the other brother who did not remember their father and could actually perform magic. Their shared goal of meeting their father was an easy one to get behind, and the filmmakers made it so that each character brought something very important to the team. Then on top of all that, I also enjoyed the dynamic between the two brothers, with one being eccentric and fearless, and the other being shy and timid. The story of trying to meet their father was an easy one to connect with, but it was the effectiveness of the protagonists that made this such an easy story to get sucked into.


Con: The Manticore (-2pts)

I liked the idea of this character, but I thought the filmmakers used her poorly. They wanted her in the story, but at the same time, if she just straight up helped the brothers, then they would not have had their road trip and they would not have faced the same challenges on their journey. Thus, the filmmakers introduced the Manticore (Octavia Spencer) and they made her unwilling to help. Then as soon as the boys left, she suddenly changed her mind, but the boys were already gone, so she had to set out to find them and help them. The filmmakers clearly wanted this character in this story, and they clearly thought that her direct involvement would make things too easy for the protagonists. Rather than simply have her involved, and throw tougher challenges their way, the filmmakers decided to go back and forth with her motivations, and they provided little justification for it. The Manticore's involvement just felt like it could have been handled a lot better than it was.


Pro: The Adventure & The Dad (+8pts)

The adventure in this movie was always exciting. The boys' journey was filled with obstacles and challenges, and the fear of not getting the crystal in time added a lot of suspense to this adventure. I wanted to see the boys meet their father, so I wanted to see them get to the crystal, and it was an exciting enough adventure to keep me invested from start to finish. Then there was the thought of seeing them finally meet their father.

The magical opportunity was one that very naturally added a lot of heart and emotion to this story. For Barley, it meant finally reuniting with his father, with whom he had so few memories of. For Ian, it meant finally meeting his father for the first time. For both characters, the loss of their father had weighed heavily on their lives. It was the heart of this entire story, and it was clear that everything would lead up to an emotional climax, and I thought the filmmakers delivered exactly that.

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Con: Colt Bronco (-2pts)

This was another side character that did not really work for me. The biggest issue that I had with Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez) was that he was just completely unnecessary. He was the boys' mom's boyfriend, and he was clearly trying to take on the role of step-dad, but he really did not contribute anything to the story. He was not very funny, he was never really a father-figure to either of the boys, and there was not any conflict or tension between him and either of the boys regarding Colt dating their mom. The only thing he contributed to the story was being another obstacle for Ian and Barley to overcome on their journey, and he was not even an interesting one. Thus, I am not really sure why the filmmakers felt the need to have him get as much screen-time as he did.


Pro: The World & The Magic (+4pts)

I really enjoyed the world that the filmmakers setup in this movie, and I enjoyed the role that magic played in it. It was a world filled with magical creatures, but it was a world in which those creatures had forgotten how to use magic. There were biker pixies who had forgotten how to use their wings. There were centaur cops who preferred to drive their car over running. There were of course elves—a species that had historically used wizard's staffs to perform magical spells—who had forgotten their magical skills.

There were many magical creatures in this world, all of which had taken on mundane lives after the magic of their ancestors had been forgotten over time. It was an interesting take, and it reminded me of Netflix's Bright, but with a very different story set in that world. I liked seeing these creatures in mundane roles, and I enjoyed how the filmmakers handled magic. They used it to deliver a lot of natural character development, with each creature needing to find out who they really were, and what they were capable of. This movie had a story that was easy to get invested in, and the many magical creatures and their forgotten magic added some interesting layers to that story.


Con: Predictable & Convenient (-5pts)

To start, this story was kind of predictable. Pretty much as soon as Ian and Barley failed their first attempt at bringing their dad back, I knew how the rest of the story would go. They only had 24 hours to complete the spell, and even if they managed to do so, their dad would disappear forever at the end of that 24 hours. Nonetheless, I knew Ian and Barley would complete the spell. I also knew that they would be met with just enough obstacles to use up that 24 hours, and I knew that they would complete the spell with only minutes to spare. Whether or not this was how the movie ended, it at least felt like that was the direction it was going in, and it made the movie pretty predictable.

Then there was the convenience. Having Ian being able to perform magic, and having Barley knowing how to do it, worked well for this story, because it made both brothers feel important. However, the extent of Barley's magical knowledge was incredibly convenient. Whenever the brothers were faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, Barley immediately came up with the exact spell necessary to overcome that challenge, and he also knew the incredibly specific ways in which those spells had to be performed. Then there was the Manticore's involvement in the end, and the convenience regarding where the characters wound up and how easily they were able to find things. Given the 24 hour time limit, the brothers really had no time for roadblocks, but the filmmakers threw them at the brothers anyway, and while this could have been interesting and suspenseful, the filmmakers also threw solutions at the brothers at the exact time they needed them. The result was a story full of challenges, but everything seemed to go way too easily for the protagonists.

Grading Scale






























Grade: B+ (86pts)

I did not catch Onward while it was in theaters. It looked like an okay movie, but it did not exactly have me rushing out to the theaters. Nonetheless, I just watched it on Disney+ and I thought it was yet another strong animated movie from Pixar. The world in which this movie took place was an interesting one. It was full of magical creatures that had forgotten how to use magic, and it was interesting to see the mundane lives of these creatures, as well as seeing how some of them rediscovered their magic.

The story was about two brothers—Ian and Barley—who had lost their father when they were very young, and they now had a spell that could bring him back for 24 hours, so the race was on to complete the spell before their time ran out. It was a simple character story, but it very naturally brought a lot of heart to the movie. I liked watching Ian and Barley's dynamic, and I liked that they each brought a crucial factor to their duo. This movie was not perfect, as it had a couple side characters that I thought should have been handled better, and it had a pretty predictable and convenient main story. Nonetheless, this was an entertaining kids movie with plenty of heart, and I recommend giving it a shot if you have not seen it already.


Movie Beasts (author) from MA on December 18, 2020:

Thanks for the comment, Louise!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on December 18, 2020:

This sounds like a movie I'd like. I enjoyed reading your review.

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