Long ago… the world was filled with magic! Cunning rogues, mighty warriors, and spell-casting wizards embarked on perilous quests. Together, they discovered ancient tombs, fought against giant beasts, and most importantly, helped those in need.
The world was filled with magic, but the art of practicing it was difficult to master. It took patience to conjure spells, and eventually, other more-convenient methods were discovered. Magic was no longer needed. Instead, technology and advancement ruled. Electricity, rather than fire, lit dark places, and large cities were soon built. Skyscrapers replaced mountains, and highways replaced valleys.
Pixar’s latest film, Onward, is set in a magnificent world, but it tries to tell a much smaller, more intimate story. Written and directed by Dan Scanlon, and written alongside Keith Bunin and Jason Headley, Onward is about two elvish brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, who embark on a noble quest to spend just twenty-four hours with their deceased father – a story is inspired by the loss of Dan Scanlon’s own father. Along the way, Ian and Barley learn meaningful lessons about life, each other, and that the “Path of Peril” isn’t so perilous after all.
Ian, the younger brother, is shy and unsure of himself. He lacks confidence, but yearns to be bold, like he is told his father used to be. In the opening act, he listens to a tape of his dad talking into and testing his new recorder. Ian never met their dad, but his older brother, Barley, did. Barley remembers and holds onto a few memories of their father. Unlike Ian, Barley is loud, boisterous, and unafraid. He’s extremely passionate about magic and is depicted literally holding onto New Mushroomton’s history, as he is seen on TV protesting the destruction of a historic fountain by tying himself to its base.
Barley’s obsession with magic regularly embarrasses Ian, who simply just wants to fit in at school. Ian creates a checklist but ultimately fails at each of his attempts at self-improvement. On his sixteenth birthday, though, their mother unveils a gift that was to be given to Ian and Barley when they were both sixteen. It’s a gift from their dad, and they unwrap a magic staff and spell that promises to bring their dad to life for a single day.
Sometimes, life points us in directions we’re unsure of. With each step, we can turn around and quit. We can simply take the expressway and choose to do what’s easy… or we can take another path, one that might seem perilous at first. The “Path of Peril” is scary. It’s bumpy and overgrown. It’s difficult and requires practice, patience, and hard work. Onward says there’s virtue in choosing this path, in doing what’s right.
Pixar’s Onward is a charming story about friendship, family, and adventure. It delivers a meaningful message worth sharing with others: it’s okay to take the “Path of Peril,” because the expressway isn’t always the best way.
“The expressway is faster…” – Ian Lightfoot
“Maybe not in the long run…” – Barley Lightfoot
Review by | Nick Cotros