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Helping Us All Proceed Onward

By Paul Hall

Fun and frivolity are usually right at home in animated films. While many of these offerings lean on a throwaway, light plot to deal with the youngest moviegoers in attendance, the new film Onward from Disney and Pixar deals with death, growth and familial love during the awkward teenage years and allows the older kids a moment to connect.

Ian (voice of Tom Holland) is an elf ready to celebrate his 16th birthday. He’s shy and has always been a kid who internalizes his feelings. But as he prepares to face his new life as a 16-year-old, he yearns to do some things a bit differently. He wants to invite kids from school to a party, learn to drive and overall put some of his anxiety behind him. But it is immediately evident that even though a day is turning on the calendar, he’s still got some growing to go.

Ian lives with his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) and his mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). His father passed away when Ian was extremely young and, although Barley has memories of him, Ian just longs to have known him.

As Ian turns 16, he receives a special gift: a magical staff accompanied by a spell to bring his dad back to life for just one more day. But when the spell goes awry and only the lower half of his body appears, Ian and Barley must set off on a legendary quest to secure a gem that will help them retry the spell so they can enjoy the one day of their dad’s company with his whole body intact.

Onward is by no means a light and airy offering. The film has light moments courtesy of its well-cast voice talent in Holland and Pratt, but it deals with difficult topics for today’s teens. With the prevalence of fidget spinners and cubes, along with a variety of coping tools, it is evident that so many children are dealing with anxiety on a regular basis. A mainstream film like this is long overdue to address, in a lighter-than-normal way, the real issues teens face. I do worry that it won’t find the audience it deserves, as people tend to shy away from this type of heavy material.

I liked Onward, and the more I thought about the film, the more I connected with it. Death has played a real role in many Disney films, but Onward deals with the topic in an adult manner using animation, and that is refreshing.

You won’t be singing the songs or remembering belly laughs when you leave the theater. You will, however, be able to push onward in your own life, whether dealing with grief, anxiety or normal growing pains.

Everyone who is growing up, or has grown up, can relate to moving on with their life, and if this film helps a couple of kids cope, enjoy what they have, and just live, well, that will be another success for Pixar.

Paul’s Grade: B

Onward
Rated PG
Voices of: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
Director: Dan Scanlon

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