Pixar's Onward Tells Fun Fantasy Tale, But Also Teaches Us To Embrace The Past

A complex tapestry of themes makes Pixar a champion once again

February 21, 2020
Chris Pratt and Tom Holland star in Onward

credit Disney and Pixar


Never forget the power of the past, and the path that its paved to makes you who you've become today.

That's what Pixar's Onward is all about. In a suburban fantasy land that's forgotten about magic, teenage elf brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) go on a journey where they discover not only that magic of the past, but a little bit about themselves along the way.

At its core, Onward seamlessly weaves a tapestry of themes effortlessly into its happy-go-lucky adventure of a storyline. A true tale of fantasy that simultaneously subverts the fantasy genre, the film takes risks that enchant from beginning to end.

But that's the beauty of Pixar, right? Director Dan Scanlon builds a set of complex themes for Onward's mature audience while creating an unforgettable on-screen experience for its younger viewers.

Ian and Barley get the chance to see their late father for one more day, thanks to the forgotten power of magic. But in order to complete the spell, the pair must venture out on a quest. Their journey together teaches them to embrace the past in order to build a better future.

Their journey, while purely fictional, can easily be seen as a parallel to the current present that we live in today. Our society is so caught up in living in the present, with modern discourse lending its hand to the addiction of social media and the allure of screen time. Sometimes we forget about what has shaped us as individuals because we forget to simply look up and look ahead.

The brothers take unexpected detours in Onward, reminding us that sometimes a quest requires a path not seen. Learning to work as a team, Ian and Barley look ahead instead of looking down. Together, they learn to challenge each other.

Conveniently, Ian breaks his smartphone in an early scene, allowing the pair to sojourn unencumbered by technology. Ultimately, their magical journey teaches us that sometimes, in order to get the most out of life and become your true self, all you need is the support of others.

Onward leans on the strong values of family to tell its tale. The brothers, and their fearless mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who's constantly searching for for them, survive on the strength of each other. Without their familial values, the quest would fall apart. Its the trust they build throughout their journey that makes what happens in the end all worth it.

Pixar reminds us that sometimes the simple answer is not always the right one. As I've correlated the world of Onward with modern society, I think the film can teach us a valuable lesson. We use what we've created to our advantage, constantly looking for what's next. What might be better.

But just because something is easy, doesn't mean its right. The past taught us that hard work produced some of the most meaningful moments in history. The mundane culture we've developed today can change, if we just take a step back and look at the past for guidance.

Onward can impact audiences with some simple lessons. Look to your family for strength. Look to the past to see what's made you unequivocally you. And look inside yourself to understand that all it takes is people who believe in you to make real change happen in your life.

I loved Onward, because clearly, it made me think about myself and the world around me. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Disney and Pixar’s Onward opens in theaters on March 6th.