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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Onward is Pixar's animated fantasy adventure about two elf brothers -- Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) -- whose long-deceased father returns to life for a single day. But when only his bottom half appears, the brothers must go on a thrilling quest to complete the spell that brought him back. They experience peril and danger, go up against fire-breathing creatures, and find themselves in tense situations (like a car chase with angry pixies). The climactic fight scene involves large-scale destruction and sacrifice, but it's somewhat offset by the emotional nature of the brothers' desperation to have some time with their dad. The fact that the plot hinges on a dead father (and his half-body, when it returns) might disturb some young viewers, but ultimately it's more bittersweet than painfully sad. Language is pretty tame and mostly consists of insults ("weirdo") and words like "dang" and "what the ... " (cut off). Two adult characters are in a dating relationship, and another mentions her girlfriend. Families who watch the film are bound to appreciate its messages about teamwork, getting along with siblings, and acting selflessly and courageously.
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What's the story?
Pixar's fantasy adventure ONWARD takes place in a fantasy world in which elves, trolls, centaurs, minotaurs, and other creatures co-exist in a traditional suburban setting. Technology has replaced magic in most folks' lives (turns out it's easier to flip a switch than cast a spell), but on his 16th birthday, introverted Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) receives a once-in-a-lifetime gift from his mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Ian's long-dead father has left him and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), a wizard's staff and a magical spell that will bring their dad back to life for one day. But when something goes wrong and only his bottom half appears, the Lightfoot brothers embark on a quest to find a way to complete the enchantment and spend time with their father before time runs out.
Is it any good?
Onward is a crowd-pleasing and surprisingly moving adventure. There's a novelty akin to that of Zootopia in seeing non-human characters inhabit a familiar, human-like suburban universe. In the world of Onward, feral unicorns eat trash like raccoons, dragons can be pets, and a millennia-old manticore (Octavia Spencer) runs a Medieval Times-meets-Chuck E. Cheese novelty restaurant. Holland and Pratt do a winning job as brothers who are opposites but still close. Pratt's Barley is particularly charming: He's an exuberant, role-playing game aficionado who believes deeply in the magic left in their world. Holland's Ian is a lot like his Peter Parker: earnest and reluctant to embrace the powers he exhibits. And Louis-Dreyfus is an ideal pick as a comedic but courageous mom who won't stop until she's protected her sons.
The first non-sequel Pixar movie since 2017's Coco, Onward is a heartfelt movie that, like Coco, deals with loss and death in an accessible way. Although the fantasy-adventure plot is fairly straightforward, the story may make even adults (especially those who've lost a parent) shed some tears. The emotional beats aren't quite as tear-jerking as they were in Coco, but Onward is still incredibly poignant. Who wouldn't be willing to do anything and everything to spend one day with a lost loved one? Viewers who value sibling tales will appreciate that the two leads are brothers who must overcome various challenges, take care of their (half-) father, and protect each other again and again. Onward may not top a list of Pixar's best-of-the-best, but it's sweet and optimistic and a reminder that everyone could use a little more magic in their lives.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the potentially sad elements of Onward. Why do you think so many kid-targeted movies involve dead parents? What's the impact on young viewers of movies about death, grief, and loss? Do you think watching movies about those things can help kids learn to grapple with them in real life?
Discuss the movie's themes of brotherhood, mourning/loss, overcoming hardship, and reconnecting with your inner self. Why is it important that some of the characters reclaim their natures?
Have you watched or read other stories about quests? What does Onward have in common with them? What sets it apart? Why do you think quest stories are so popular?
Do you think the movie is trying to make a point about technology use and digital well-being? What role does technology play in the characters' lives? How about magic?
- In theaters: March 6, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: March 20, 2020
- Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
- Director: Dan Scanlon
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Brothers and Sisters
- Character Strengths: Communication, Courage, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action/peril and some mild thematic elements
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: May 15, 2020
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