By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows that desire to be reunited with that person if it were at all possible. That is the main drive of the two lead characters of Disney/Pixar’s newest movie Onward. The film deals with the theme of life, death, and the tremendous impact it has on the heart. Though the material might sound a bit heavy, the filmmakers behimd this family movie have developed a story that never gets too morbid or disturbing for younger audiences. That is often the beauty of Disney/Pixar movies. They may deal with real human emotions and problems relatable to adults, but the talented filmmakers manage to make the experience more palatable and entertaining enough for children to enjoy and grow from the experience.

Tom Holland stars as teenage elf Ian Lightfoot, a smart, but socially awkward high school student trying to find the courage within himself to become more than just a shy wallflower. Ian and his family live in a world whose history is has seen and experienced real magic, but has discovered “easier” and more practical ways of living. Though most of the world has moved on without scorcery, Ian’s older brother Barley¬†(Chris Pratt) would love to return to the old ways, but can only experience this life vicariously through his beloved role playing games.

On Ian’s birthday, his mother (Julia Louis Dreyfus) presents him and Barley with a magical staff in accordance with their late father’s wishes. Barley recognizes the staff and its magical gem from his games and informs Ian that they could temporarily bring back their father for one day for the reunion they desperately desire. Well, things don’t go completely as planned and the two brothers must embark on a quest to complete the spell that should bring their father to them.

Directed by Dan Scanlon, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, Onward may not be top-tier Disney/Pixar, but has so much heart that it comes pretty darn close. Inspired by fantasy fiction, the movie features lots of enjoyable references to Tolkien’s “Middle Earth” universe, nods to Harry Potter and also draws some inspiration from the Dungeons and Dragons role playing games. Fans of these fictional worlds should find much enjoyment in these jokes and references. The movie alao offers some great messages about the importance of family and how people often take for granted the wonderful ways family members can enrich our lives.

The film has a fantastic voice cast as well. Tom Holland is perfectly cast as the shy and awkward Ian. Chris Pratt brings his boisterous energy and attitude to Ian’s older brother Barley. As the brothers’ loving mother Laurel, Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives a heartfelt and brassy turn. Onward also features great voicework by Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Lena Waitge, Ali Wong, and Tracey Ullman.

And though the material might spund dark and morbid, that really isn’t the case here. Onward definitely has its heart in the right place and never strays into any disturbing or even frightening territory. It is a movie children of all ages can enjoy and adults can appreciate. That is exactly what Disney/Pixar does well.

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