Onward Parent Guide
A truly magical film whose positive messages are accompanied by rip-roaring adventure and laugh-out-loud comedy.
Parent Movie Review
Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) are brothers, living in Mushroomton – a place that seems ordinary until you observe that the siblings are elves, monsters go to school, unicorns knock over garbage cans, and mom’s boyfriend is a centaur. Barley, the oldest of the pair, is having a gap year and devoting his time to fixing up his van and playing endless rounds of Quests of Yore, a game that resembles Dungeons and Dragons. Ian is a shy, socially awkward teenager, who’s afraid to drive on the freeway or invite anyone to his birthday party and who longs for the deceased father he never met. Then Ian turns 16 and receives an unexpected, magical gift that makes his greatest dream possible. To achieve this dream, the brothers go on a quest that is by turns perilous, comic, and deeply satisfying.
Onward is a truly outstanding movie, with an original story that breaks the depressing trend of studio remakes and sequels. It’s wonderful to sit in the theater, watching a family film, and be surprised by plot twists. Kids’ productions are usually so trite that adults can predict the story far in advance. Onward is not one of those films. Although it provides many of the moments I expected, it manages to subvert many of those expectations right up to the end of the movie.
This tale also overflows with positive messages that will have parents cheering in their seats. Its overarching theme is family – and it shows how powerful familial love can be and how much we need our kin. Surprisingly, the portrayal of the Lightfoot family is more nuanced than I usually see in a kids’ film. The boys aren’t mouthy Bart Simpsons; they are respectful to their mother and kind to one another. The mother (named Laurel and voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) isn’t a ditzy moron; she’s a sensitive, thoughtful, determined, and courageous woman who will do anything to protect her sons. She’s no fainting female who needs to be rescued by the boys, but a middle-aged woman who knows how powerful she can be. When a giant monster pursues Ian and Barley, Laurel grabs a giant sword and shouts, “I am a mighty warrior!” And she is.
Also prominent in the story is the importance of believing in yourself. This is a fairly common movie motif, but it’s handled deftly in Onward. Ian doesn’t develop self-assurance alone. He needs the support and reassurance of his brother to learn to see himself as he really is and to develop confidence in his gifts. The brothers’ bond leads to another compelling theme, rarely seen on the big screen, and that is selflessness. Ian and Barley, despite their occasional squabbling, both sacrifice for the other. In fact, there’s one scene, where an act of extreme selflessness on the part of one brother left me in tears. Not bad for an animated kid flick.
Best of all, these messages never come across as stuffy or preachy. The movie is so much fun, packed with so much action, and full of so much laughter, that it is a joy to watch. Parents of young children or sensitive viewers might be concerned about the violent moments in the movie – and there are plenty of scary animated creatures and scenes of violent, magical conflict – but these perilous scenes won’t deter most viewers. We just get to sit back and go onward into the magical world Pixar has created.Directed by Dan Scanton. Starring Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release March 6, 2020. Updated March 5, 2020
Watch the trailer for Onward
Rating & Content Info
Why is Onward rated PG? Onward is rated PG by the MPAA for action/peril and some mild thematic elements.
Violence: Frequent moments of peril that might frighten sensitive children. Characters roughhouse, bumping into furniture and tussling on the ground. There are multiple scenes of reckless and dangerous driving. A main character drives frequently although he doesn’t have a driver’s license. A character sets fire to a tavern. A mascot’s head burns and gets ripped off. A major character barely escapes the flames. Aggressive sprites attack and threaten other characters on several occasions. Sprites wrap a chain around a main character’s arm and try to drag him from a vehicle. A character uses her stinger to temporarily paralyze someone she disagrees with. Main characters go through a booby-trapped underground passageway: they are nearly shot with arrows, cleaved by a sharp blade, drowned, or dissolved in a corrosive substance. Cursed red smoke pours out of a structure, destroying surrounding buildings and creating a monster. A giant monster breathes fire, chases multiple characters, and tries to destroy them. A main character has a mid-air battle with a monster.
Sexual Content: A male character’s pants ride low and the top of his buttocks is briefly seen. A minor female character mentions her girlfriend in the course of casual conversation.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated March 5, 2020
Onward Parents' Guide
Barley and Ian both sacrifice for each other. What do they give up? Why do they do it? Have you ever given up something that’s important to you for someone else?
Why is your family important to you? What have you learned from your parents and siblings? How have they helped you face challenges in your life? How have you helped them? What can you do to support and help people in your family?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
If you want to pursue your own quest in a fairy tale world, try Connor Hoover’s series, beginning with Pick Your Own Quest: Trapped in a Fairy Tale.
Sisters go on a quest in the magical land of Arden in The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko. Gail Carson Levine’s The Two Princesses of Bamarre tells the tale of Princess Addie who undertakes a perilous quest to save her critically ill older sister.
Vivian Vande Velde tells tongue-in-cheek magical stories in her novels for kids and middle schoolers. Wizard at Work shares the misadventures and exploits of a youthful wizard in a screwball magical world. In The Rumpelstiltskin Problem, Ms. Vande Velde examines the inconsistencies in the traditional fairy tale and provides several different versions of the story, all told from different angles. A Hidden Magic is the story of Jennifer, the unglamorous princess of a poor kingdom, who winds up in an enchanted forest with a handsome prince, a surprising sorcerer…and a wicked witch.
Creel’s normal, everyday existence is turned upside down when her aunt tries to sacrifice her to a dragon. But Creel is a persuasive young woman and manages to negotiate with him, change her future, and save the kingdom in Dragon Slippers.
When King Kareed gives his daughter a crystal, neither of them know that this gift will give Torina enormous powers…but not enough to keep her safe. The Seer and the Sword by Victoria Hanley tells the tale of a courageous young woman with a perilous fate.
Related home video titles:
Perhaps the greatest quest ever filmed is that of Frodo Baggins, immortalized in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.
Siblings challenge a previously invisible world of magical beasts in The Spiderwick Chronicles.
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a young wizard and his friends have to keep an eye on his collection of magical animals while fighting dark forces.
The four Pevensie siblings find themselves in an enchanted world when they fall through the back of a wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Trying to find his father sends a young man on wild adventures in Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.
In Enchanted, a young woman is cast from her fairy tale world in to real-world New York City. Ella Enchanted tells the story of a young woman living in a world where fairies and fairy curses have the power to shape her destiny.
A boy is obsessed with repairing the mysterious automaton left behind by his late father in Hugo.