Onward

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Onward Movie Poster Image
 Parents recommendPopular with kids
Original, heartfelt sibling adventure about love and loss.
  • PG
  • 2020
  • 102 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 47 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 77 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Not intended as educational, but does teach about role-playing games and medieval fantasy worlds.

Positive Messages

Promotes brotherhood, teamwork, perseverance, communication, resilience. Ian and Barley's relationship must overcome differences of opinion and disagreements. Encourages sometimes taking risks, believing in yourself, learning when to be assertive and fierce, acknowledging magic of family love, adventure, trying new things. Suggests that overreliance on technology removes some of the wonder and magic from life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ian is a smart, thoughtful teen who wants, more than anything, to spend time with the father he never knew. Barley is a dedicated, caring, protective older brother who encourages Ian to discover his powers, defends him from dangerous situations. They're both courageous, perseverant. Ian learns to take more risks, while Barley learns value of teamwork, accountability. Their mom, Laurel, is strong, brave, wants the best for her sons, willingly puts herself in dangerous situations to try to help/save them. Even through lens of this being a fantasy world, supporting characters are diverse -- many skin colors, body sizes/types, etc.

Violence & Scariness

Story centers around main characters' deceased father (who died of unspecified illness) coming back to life for one day. Parental death, a common element of children's films, can be upsetting to some viewers. The boys' dad does come back, but only from waist down. His half-body might initially scare really young kids, but it becomes a funny and bittersweet situation. Both Barley and Ian experience sad moments. A climactic fight sequence involves a giant, fire-breathing flying monster that destroys everything in its path, endangers several characters. But (spoiler alert) no one dies or is seriously hurt except for the father (who was already dead). Some peril/tension and creepy settings, including sequence with skeletons, flying arrows, attack by deadly gelatinous cube. The brothers literally choose the Path of Peril at one point. Chase scene in which motorcycle-riding pixies pursue the brothers, sometimes wielding weapons (like a broken-off glass bottle, a mace). Pixies jump on Ian as he tries to drive; van ends up crashing. Characters use a sword. Ian nearly has a fatal fall. Cory the Manticore wrecks her restaurant when she loses her temper, destroying things, spewing fire. A character paralyzes a pawnbroker. Yelling, accusations, arguments.

Sexy Stuff

Laurel and her boyfriend, a centaur, are occasionally affectionate. They flirt a little, kiss once, and hug. A ringtone is clearly romantic. Another character mentions her girlfriend.

Language

Occasional insult language like "screw up," "lazy," "weirdo," "nut," "bonkers," and "beast," as well as a couple of dangling exclamations like "what the ... ," "son of a ... ," and "dang."

Consumerism

Nothing in the film, but all Disney/Pixar films have off-screen merchandise tie-ins, including apparel, toys, and more. Some real-life products have parody versions in the movie, like a game called Prance Prance Revolution.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character becomes more and more caffeinated -- excitable, jittery, and fast-talking -- after consuming energy drinks.

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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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byhelto1 March 10, 2020

Emotional, heartfelt, thrilling, everything you expect from Pixar

Onward is Pixar's latest and greatest film. The story of two brothers who lost their dad early in life and are given the gift of a magical spell that can... Continue reading
Adult Written byJulia Meyer March 8, 2020

Awesome show!

Super awesome movie loved the plot. I thought it was very appropriate for the kids! It also had very good role models. There were a couple of suspenseful parts... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 7, 2020

Beautiful,sad,violent Pixar movie may be too intense for kids

Pixar’s onward film is here and here is my review on it. The movie is really beautiful because it shows team work between two brothers who go on a road trip to... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byAdventurebro2004 March 11, 2020

Sweet brotherly tale about dungeons and dragons

I love how Pixar took a "dungeons and dragons" approach to a film. It was beautifully animated, and it had a nice plot. It was about family. Also, I l... Continue reading

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?

  • How is teamwork important to the story? What about perseverance and courage? Why are those important character strengths for kids to learn?

  • 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?

Movie details

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