Arts & Entertainment

Pixar’s ‘Onward’ is a surprising take on family, love and adventure

By Avery Perkins, business manager

Pixar’s new movie Onward can only be described as amazing. While watching the trailer, it is easy to assume that Onward would just be another animated movie about childhood adventure with a cheesy moral of the story. Onward goes beyond this. 

Yes, it still has the childhood adventure that the characters Ian Lightfoot, played by Tom Holland, and Barley Lightfoot, played by Chris Pratt, embark on, but the depth of all the characters within the movie is astonishing. The movie starts out when Ian Lightfoot turns sixteen and his mom, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, gives him and his brother Barley a magical staff with a spell that could bring their father, played by Kyle Bornheimer, back from the dead for one day. unlike most animated movies, the family unit in Onward is a single mother who raised two sons on her own, one of which lives at home after graduating high school. The movie doesn’t try to make single-handedly raising two sons look easy. Onward depicts what a real family could look like in today’s world. 

The adventure begins when the boys mess up the spell and only dad’s legs come back. Desperate to find another magic rock that is essential to the spell, they jump in the car and use Barley’s extensive knowledge of all things magical to find the stone. At the end they do in fact bring their dad back, but Ian gives up the chance to see his dad because he was fighting a dragon, and was moved by his brother’s account of how he couldn’t say goodbye the first time. Seeing as Ian had never met his dad, he felt it was fair to give his brother a chance to finally say goodbye. 

With Onward‘s unique plot it is no surprise that the themes portrayed, either subtly or blatantly, were unique as well. There were three big examples that show what a real family and teenager may experience. The first was the mother’s boyfriend Colt Bronco, played by Mel Rodriguez. He was a centaur while the rest of Ian’s family were elfs. This was very obviously an example of diversity within a relationship; not only that but Colt Bronco played the part of the stepfather. None of the characters ever mentioned that he was a different species. The boys only disliked him at the beginning because they thought he was trying to replace their dad, a valid, normal struggle for children of blended families. Diverse relationships and step-parents are common, and Pixar did a great job calling attention to these aspects of life in a way that normalizes them. The age range that the movie is made for may not understand the message being portrayed but it is important to introduce children to two things: the idea that step-parents and siblings can still be family and that relationships can come in many forms. 

The second theme is that of father figures. It is known from the start that Ian never knew his father. He grew up with his older brother Barley as the only father figure he ever knew. At the end of the movie when Ian gives up his chance to meet his dad he says that he didn’t need to meet him because he already had one: his older brother. This is an important theme not usually explored in any movie, animation or not. In most other animation movies where a parental figure dies, the main characters do everything to make the memory of the deceased parent proud,like in Frozen. However, for the children potentially watching Onward without a father figure in their lives, Onward tells them that a blood connection isn’t the only thing that can make a father.  Bringing tears to the eyes of even the toughest people in the theater, Onward did a great job exploring the idea that father figures can come in many forms.

The final theme, and the most subtle, was the normalization of different sexualities, portrayed by the Manticore, played by Octavia Spencer. Her character was the first in Pixar’s history to be openly gay. Due to this, Onward has be banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia for a “gay reference” made during the film. Pixar should be proud of the doors that it is opening for animated movies. Young children watching may not pick up on the reference made, but that’s not what is important. What is important is the normalization and exposure to something new, as well as  acceptance of who that person is. Pixar is teaching young children that being who they are is in itself something to be proud of. 

Onward broke many norms of a childhood animated movie. The plot was similar to that of any adventure movie, but the struggles and relationships that the characters involve  themselves in were very real. Unlike the typical Disney princess movie, people can relate to Onward’s themes and realistic characters. Not that many people can relate to living in a castle or falling in love with a prince. Onward is a great movie that depicts a real story and a real struggle with growing up, and is definitely worth the watch.  Luckily people can watch Onward from the comfort of their homes. Disney+ and Amazon Prime have added many movies to its platform including Onward due to the recent shelter in place protocol around the United States. Fees may vary, but people can now watch a heartwarming movie about family, adventure and love while practicing social distancing, keeping themselves and their families safe.

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