Onward gives a refreshing, magical touch to the Disney+ streaming service

Movie reached streaming service early in light of theater closures due to coronavirus


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Disney+, the streaming service on which Onward can be viewed

Andrew Stell, Features Editor

A recent addition to the streaming service, Disney+, Onward is a mundane tale of learning to love family in a fantastical world of unicorns, elves, centaurs, manticores and all things magical. In its world building sequence, Onward explains that while once the world was full of mystic voyages and wonder, magic proved far more difficult than a simple light switch; so the world progressed, sans magic. The story follows brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced respectively by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), the two boys suffered the loss of their father at a young age, living vicariously through VHS recordings and memories.

WARNING, SPOILERS AHEAD: The movie opens on Ian’s 16 birthday, picturing him as a shy, smart and scared high schooler, who though passes unicorns and sprites on his way to school, suffers with the same problems as ordinary high schoolers in America. The two boys’ mother, Laurel Lightfoot, is introduced second, following a TV workout routine that insists its followers are “warriors.” Following this introduction, lights thrill seeker and game obsessed Barley; an inverse character of his younger brother, Ian. For his 16th birthday, Laurel Lightfoot encourages Ian to branch out, be bold and make new friends.

“Your birthday is the day to try new things. Be the new you,” Laurel Lightfoot, mother, said.

So, Ian makes a list of all the qualities he will bring to “the new Ian,” but sadly this plan proves ill-fitted. To encourage Ian and Barley, Laurel brings a gift from their father, Wilden Lightfoot, to his sons when they both reach 16 years of age. Out comes a wooden magical staff, which includes a phoenix gem, a necessary item for a spell included by Wilden to revive him for one full day. Magic-history obsessed Barley attempts this spell, but not even a spark leaves this staff. Later, Ian recites the incantation and proves effective until Barley walks in, stopping this spell half-way therefore stopping the creation of Wilden’s body at just the lower half. Barley encourages Ian to join him on an “old-fashioned” magical quest, to find another phoenix gem.

The two set out to find the Manticore’s Mansion, a historically ominous home to brave slayer of beasts. But upon arriving, they realize this has been turned into a family restaurant, another motif during this movie, showing that even historically magical places have modernized, losing their magic. Upon speaking to this manticore, who now serves as a waitress, they enrage this beast, insisting she has lost her brave nature; this causes her to burn down her own restaurant. Laurel tracks down the boys to this Manticore’s tavern, finding ambulances and a manticore being placed under arrest. The Manticore tells Laurel that she knows where her boys are and Laurel helps the Manticore escape. Using a kid’s menu from the Manticore’s Tavern, the two discover their quest will lead them to Raven’s Point, a nearby mountain. Barley attempts to share his knowledge on quests, but Ian wants to take the expressway, a path Barley warns against.

The two run into trouble at a gas station, after Barley’s van, Guinevere, runs out of gas, and Ian cannot conduct the spell required. Barley gets in trouble with a sprite gang while at the gas station, and in a tiny form due to the malfunctioning of the prior spell, and Ian has to face his fear of driving on a highway with the help of Barley’s encouraging words. After escaping the sprite gang, Ian gets pulled over and must perform a disguise spell, in which the two boys transform into Laurel’s boyfriend, who is also a cop. Ian and Barley are questioned by two police officers, one of which mentions she is engaged in a same sex relationship, something this movie has been praised for representing this as casually as it is represented. It is a historic representation of the LGBTQ+ community by Disney, as openly LGBTQ+ characters were rarely seen in Disney movies before.

One of the police officers makes a comment about Barley being a “screw up,” which makes Barley realize how unappreciative Ian is of him.

After all of the trouble, Ian takes Barley’s suggestion to not use the expressway and take the “path of peril.” The police once again track down the boys to Raven’s Point, where they get cornered, forcing Barley to make the ultimate sacrifice of sending his beloved van, Guinevere to block the path of policemen. Now on foot, the boys reach a drawbridge, with a lever only on the other side. Barley informs Ian that he must perform an invisible bridge spell, which forces the user to trust the bridge completely in order to use it. Barley ties a rope around Ian in case he were to fall, but when the rope runs out, Ian must cross only using his trust in this magic. Eventually reaching the other side, Ian brings down the drawbridge in order for Barley to cross. The quest hunters follow the ravens all the way to what Barley calls, “the final gauntlet,” a series of tests the proceed the finale of the quest. Involving traps and a river that the two float down using an enlarged cheese puff, Ian and Barley ride this abnormal raft all the way to the end of the gauntlet, where they find themselves coming out of a manhole in front of their house.

In a rage, Ian blames this on Barley, stating that if they would have taken the expressway as he suggested they could have achieved the phoenix gem. Barley still pursues this gem, while Ian makes the realization that though he did not get to grow up with his father, he had Barley to look up to. As Ian makes this connection, Barley finds the phoenix gem, taking it and releasing a curse that takes the form of a dragon. The manticore and Laurel finally catch up to the boys, aiding them in an intense battle that results in a victory, just before sundown and the deadline for this spell to work. Stuck under a pile of rubble, Ian casts the spell allowing Barley a chance to say goodbye to their father.

This addition to the Pixar universe adds a thematic territory otherwise unexplained. It shows that even when the ending is not always happy, compassion can change the outcome of the story. It also shows that happiness is often making the most of what you have. Onward is a welcomed addition to the vast and broad Disney-Pixar universe.