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Movie Review: Sibling Love, The Quest for Magic, and (Half Successfully) Bringing Back Loved Ones to Life in Disney-Pixar’s Onward

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – The relationship between siblings is rarely, if ever, at the heart of animated films. Because of their complex nature and perhaps because of the lighter tone of older animated motion pictures, those films often focused on the relationship between potential partners or even between parent and child. And though Frozen and Frozen II shone a bright light on sisters, you’d be hard pressed to find any animated movie with brotherhood at the center of it. That is, until Onward.

In a world where magic was once real, Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is an elf whose dad Wilden passed away when he was still a baby. A bit on the awkward side with hardly any friends in school, Ian always has older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) trying to convince him to join the latter’s adventures even just on a boardgame. On his 16th birthday, Ian and Barley’s mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) hands him a gift from Wilden, a wizard’s staff and a phoenix gem. If they use these correctly, Wilden will be able to see them for one day and Ian will finally get to talk to his dad.


Barley tries several times to no avail, but when Ian accidentally casts the spell, he’s only able to bring back the lower half of his dad’s body. Barley is then determined to find another phoenix gem before the sun sets the following day and the brothers take Barley’s beat up van Guinevere on their quest. Along the way, the boys must go to the dreaded Manticore’s Tavern, find where the other phoenix gem is hidden, follow the Path of Peril, and face a group of hardcore pixies for a chance to be reunited with their dad for even just a few precious moments.

On the surface, it was mildly amusing to find out that two actors who’ve made their mark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were cast as brothers in a Disney-Pixar vehicle. After all, Spider-Man (Holland) and Star-Lord (Pratt) were hardly in any scenes where they interacted with each other in the Avengers movies. However, what director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae did was more than just stunt casting. Holland has somewhat mastered playing awkward teens who are coming of age and the similarities between Peter Parker and Ian Lightfoot are clear in that regard. The loneliness of Peter losing his Uncle Ben and Ian never meeting Wilden is a through line that was easy for Holland to portray, even just through vocals in this instance.

Pratt, as the carefree, fearless yet encouraging goofball Barley, actually played a similar role when he was Andy Dwyer on the TV series Parks and Recreation, way before he was a Guardian of the Galaxy. Barley so desperately yearns to go on an adventure and bring back the time before the world became over-reliant on technology. It’s only later in the film that we find out the reason why Barley refuses to be afraid anymore.

With Louis-Dreyfus cast as the semi-neurotic but caring mother of the boys, the actress does something outside her comfort zone after decades of television success as Elaine on Seinfeld and Vice-President Selina Meyer on Veep. As a single mother raising two boys, Laurel had to serve as mother and father while also leaning on Barley to help keep Ian on the straight and narrow. The twist of Corey the Manticore played by Octavia Spencer was a humorous premise to both call back the beast’s mythical and magical origins as well as allowing Laurel a chance to go on her own quest to save her sons.

With all the magic spells, fantastic creatures, and laughs, at the core of Onward, however, is a tale of trying to connect with a parent who you never got to meet and the pain of trying to figure out what kind of person that parent was. It’s also a story of brothers looking out for each other, believing in each other’s potential when no one else does, and sacrificing one’s happiness for your brother. Holland and Pratt play the two very different brothers quite well and the success of the film hinges a lot on their chemistry as siblings.

Disney and Pixar’s Onward journeys to Philippine theaters on March 4, 2020 and will have an early release happening at selected cinemas on Leap Day, February 29, 2020.


About the Author:

Jason Inocencio was once the Digital Editor of adobo magazine who still loves seeing great campaigns from all over the world. He proudly shows off his love for all kinds of geeky things, whether it be movies, TV shows, comics, sports, or trivia.

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