Along the same lines as “Coco,” “Onward” attempts to grapple with the hereafter and how families deal with death. “Coco” is much more thoughtful about it, providing an emotionally resonant portrait love, loss, and death. “Onward” doesn’t reach those heights but does produce some satisfying sentimentality toward the end.
Ian Lifghtfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) lives in a world that used to be filled with magic. Try to imagine Middle-earth, but with cars, microwaves, and electricity. The world is populated with elves, trolls, and fairies. Since they’ve let technology rule their lives – because magic was too difficult to learn – most magic had been lost. Just novel stories to tell the kids.
Ian is a shy elf, who is dealing with some complex issues. Ian’s father passed away before he ever met him. Ian’s older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) vaguely remembers their father, but both are suffering from the loss even after 16 years.
When Ian turns 16 his mother gives both sons a present from their dad. A present he wanted them to both have after they were over 16. It’s a wizard staff that comes with a spell which will bring their father back for one day to visit them.
Only when attempting the spell something goes wrong, and instead of their dad appearing before them, Ian and Barley are left staring at a pair slacks and loafers. Only the bottom half of dad showed up.
The whole plot with the dad appearing as just a pair of sentient pants never really hits the emotional notes it should. Most of it is played for laughs. It’s endearing as their father’s foot searches for their feet just for a touch. Just making sure his sons are there. But these strong moments are always interrupted with hijinks that aren’t funny enough to make up for interrupting the sweeter moments.
Barley and Ian must embark on a journey to find out why their spell went wrong. There are maps to follow, items to gather, but they only have 24 hours before their dad disappears forever.
The adventure they take hits all the familiar notes of a buddy road trip movie. First, they distrust each other, the learn to like each other, then have a falling out. You know, the same things that happen in every movie with this structure.
It’s cute enough to be family friendly. However, it lacks that certain Pixar quality we’ve come to expect from their original ideas.
There is a satisfying, tear-inducing finale that might sneak up on you. It’s the shining moment in an otherwise standard tale of brotherly angst and how we cope with loss.
“Coco” did it better.