“Onward” delivers a captivating message about maturity

The word “onward” has many meanings. To some, it means moving forward and advancing. To others, it means growing up and making progress. Both of these connotations perfectly encapsulate what the movie “Onward” is all about. 

Inspired by the death of his father when he was a 1-year-old, director and screenwriter Dan Scanlon wanted to convey a story that deeply resonated with children struggling to overcome the passing of a loved one. His new animated film “Onward” does exactly that, providing a heartfelt, relatable story that empowers both children and adults to overcome their fears and struggles.

The film begins by establishing the protagonist Ian Lightfoot: an awkward, timid teenage elf who lacks confidence in himself. In contrast, Ian’s older brother, Barley Lightfoot, is a bold and passionate elf who is not afraid to take risks. Ian longs to be like his father, who passed away before his birth. Set in a unique world that combines magic and technology, the characters go on a quest to revive their dead father while learning key lessons about growing up along the way.

Many movies have already featured the trope of a main character dealing with the loss of a parent. While this concept itself is unoriginal, the message of “Onward” extends far beyond the tragic experience of losing a parent. Through the obstacles that Ian and Barley encounter on their journey, this movie teaches the importance of overcoming fears and believing in oneself. In addition, Ian’s character development, as he slowly begins to come to terms with his father’s death, shows that we should appreciate what we currently have instead of dwelling on our pain. In a movie that is primarily targeted toward children and teenagers, this lesson is an especially important one to learn. Oftentimes, people are so preoccupied with their own problems that they lose sight of the things that they should be grateful for.

This message is executed effectively because of the engaging storytelling, the relatable characters and the well-developed, fantastical world that they inhabit. The journey that the characters experience is full of struggles and rewards, modeling the lives of adolescents as they grow up and experience adulthood. The plot may initially seem nonsensical and superficial, especially with the characters traversing the land looking for a magical gem, overcoming traps along the way and escaping from angry pixies on motorcycles. Yet, there is a hidden message in every struggle. The characters learn more about themselves and what they are capable of as they progress in their quest, represented by Ian’s increasing skill in magic. The obstacles that Ian and Barley encounter, such as Ian having to trust himself and gain confidence in order to cast a spell to cross a chasm, directly mirror the same struggles that teenagers must go through in their daily lives. Despite being in a world so full of fantasy and magic, there are elements of the real world that are still present.

A unique aspect of this movie is how it blends reality and fantasy. Although there are elves, centaurs and pixies, there are also teachers, police and modern technology. In combining these two elements, the movie adds allure and charm to the story, allowing the audience to immerse themselves in a fake, fictional world while also reminding them that this is a story about issues in the real world as well.

The chemistry between the two protagonists also adds to the complexity of the movie. Ian Lightfoot and Barley Lightfoot are complete foils of each other in terms of personality. Barley serves the key role of pushing Ian past his comfort zone. While “Onward” does create conflicts between these two characters because of their differing personalities, this tension is crucial in conveying the message that we should accept other people, regardless of their personality. When the movie finally reveals how these two characters have come to develop their separate personalities, we gain a stronger understanding of both characters. “Onward” is not just a story about a father-son relationship but also a story about the bond between two brothers.

“Onward” is an inspiring movie for adolescents and adults. While it may appear simplistic at first, this movie teaches us that, despite our problems, we should always be trying to move onward.

By Raymond Dunn, Staff writer
Photo courtesy of IMDb

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