Dan Scanlon turns a personal story into a sweet fantasy adventure

The problem with Pixar is that its glorious history doesn’t help new productions: films can’t avoid the comparison with their predecessors, no matter the differences. That’s why we can’t say that Onward is one of Pixar’s standout movies, but its emotional background is one of its strong points.

The american director Dan Scanlon presented the film yesterday morning, at La Lanterna event space in Rome, Italy. The film hits theaters on March 6 but, due to the coronavirus disease emergency, the release date has been postponed to April 16 in some countries as a preventive measure.

The story follows two teenage brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, who live in a fantasy-fictional world whose creatures once had magic: due to progress and comforts the population forgot their roots. Ian lost his father before he was born and his brother, Barley, was too young to remember many things about him. When Ian turns 16, their mother Laurel reveals their dad prearranged a gift for both of them: when they unwrap it, they find out that it’s a wizard’s staff that comes with a spell to bring him back for one day, so they can meet him. However, something goes wrong and the two end up with just their father’s legs: Ian and Barley will undertake an adventure to make the spell work and see their dad again.

Scanlon, who directed Mater and the Ghostlight and Monsters University is also an expert animator and storyboard artist whose works include titles like Tarzan 2 and Cars. Onward deals with his personal story: «My father passed away when I was 1 year old and my brother was 3» explained the director while introducing the film. «We’ve always wondered who he was and how we were like him and… what if we could spend one day with him? That was the genesis of Onward.»

The film takes inspiration from many fantasy cornerstones such as the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, the 1982’s movie Dark Crystal and the world of The Smurfs which probably inspired the mushroom-shaped houses of the setting. Scanlon depicts an imaginary world fun enough to watch, where elves workout in front of the TV, pixies join biker gangs and society shows its first signs of decline (stray unicorns pick food from trash).

For the two brothers the quest of their father becomes an opportunity to walk the path of self-discovery, confidence and bravery. Onward also builds a link between the past and the present: to complete their mission, Ian and Barley must leave technology behind, rely on their inner qualities and unleash their potential.

This heart-felt themes compensate for the slowness of the first part of the film and the predictable outcomes of some scenes. Onward is a sweet fantasy adventure that works despite the flaws and will also make you cry in the final part.

The voice cast includes actors Tom Holland (Ian), Chris Pratt (Barley), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Laurel) and Octavia Spencer (Manticore).


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