It is Ian Lightfoot’s 16th birthday. Shy and reserved, he really has no friends and has always felt like his life was missing something very specific. His dad. When his mother was pregnant, Ian’s father died. Sixteen years later the family has rebuilt itself with his big brother Barley and mother and his centaur stepfather.
Oh, yeah, by the way, Onward is set in a universe where the world is populated by elves, centaurs, ogres, mermaids, goblins and unicorns. Years ago there was magic, but as it was not something everyone could do, technology developed, starting with electricity…eventually, magic was largely forgotten.
On his sixteenth birthday, his mother hands him a gift from his father. What they find is a wizard staff, a jewel and a spell that will bring their father back for one day so he can see who his sons have become. Things go wrong and they bring him back from the waist down…this sets Ian and Barley on a quest to find a new jewel to complete the spell before sundown robs them of their time.
Onward keeps its world building deceptively simple. The opening couple minutes set up exactly why we basically see a world a lot like our own, just with mythical creatures. They have a lot of fun with a concept where technology has caused natural things to the different creatures to atrophy, so when Barley tries to tell people how things used to be, they laugh at him (why would a centaur need to run up to 70 miles when they have a car?) or become angry (are you telling pixies they are lazy for not flying?). And Barley seems easy to write off, all his knowledge is based in a Dungeons and Dragons style game that he claims is historically accurate.
I really found the characters endearing. The side plots are also engaging, especially the boys’ mom who teams up with the Manticore (Octavia is delightfully manic) to secure a sword that can end a curse the boys are on track to unknowingly release.
The character designs are solid, though not groundbreaking for Pixar. But they are fun to watch and the voice cast gives them a vivid life. I also love how colorful the film it. Even when they are contrasting the world without magic with a more grimy look, it is really nice looking.
I had a great time watching Onward and think people of all ages will really enjoy it.