Built on the beloved Pixar formula, but with a sly twist, Onward is a magical coming-of-age saga that is perfect for both young and old.
Ian Lightfoot is a teenage elf living in a world that has chosen technology over magic. Apart from social awkwardness, he also suffers from a lack of self-confidence, having never met his father who died of illness before he was born. On his sixteenth birthday, his mother presents him with his father’s wizard staff and phoenix gem, and using the accompanying instructions, Ian and his older brother Barley conjure a “visitation spell,” which brings their late father back to life for a brief visit. Unfortunately, the spell fizzles midway and only the lower half of their dad is brought back. To complete the spell, Ian and Barley then go on a self-appointed magical quest. Their objective is to retrieve another phoenix gem to give the powerful visitation spell a second go.
Before I begin, let me just say, it’s only the start of March and I’ve already watched three movies with Tom Holland. (Inclusive of the one I watched on New Year’s Eve, that is) The lad has really proven himself to be quite capable in voiceover roles, hasn’t he, even if his roles are largely spin-offs of his teenage Spider-Man persona. On this, I look forward to more performances from Tom. I also hope to see him venture into bolder grounds.
As for Onward, oh wow. This movie was truly the Pixar formula brought to perfection, this being a premise with a curious twist, one that’s then thoroughly explored to showcase the best in humanity and interpersonal relationships.
Beyond the magic, the quirky characters, and the loving homage to (absurd) RPG game missions, the story so deftly explores protagonist Ian Lightfoot’s true coming-of-age. This was a quest that involves no magic and is entirely about him coming to terms with loss and denial. In extension, the quest was also about the teen learning to make the best of what he has been left with. To appreciate what he has been blind to for too long.
Naturally, there’s plenty of humour throughout the show too, many scenes of which are intelligently scripted to expound the conflicts and regrets between the main characters. Among these, the most poignant and memorable scene for me would be that of the confrontation with the road patrol. Hilarious as it was, so much was explored in this brief exchange. It ended on a deep, truly realistic note as well; that of the many unspoken grudges between real-life brothers.
Grudges that could be the source of life-long disagreements and stress and longings, or vice versa. For viewers who had lived their whole lives with siblings with starkly different personalities, I am sure this scene exerts a profound effect. It is at the same time, bittersweet and affecting. Lots of food to chew on too.
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