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Onward review: brotherly bonds used to overcome fear, raise self esteem

I’ve never had a predilection for Disney films, but this was actually solid all the way around.

In light of the entire sporting world crashing to a hopeless end over the last couple of days, we at Viva the Matadors have made it our goal to remain vigilant in our quest to entertain you.

For this purpose, we have decided to take a crack at writing some movie reviews.

I know what you’re thinking - how are these guys qualified to critique modern cinema when they’re hardly capable of writing about sports? It’s a fair question, and you’re absolutely right. This is gonna be terrible for everyone involved. But we need distractions, OK? So if you thought you were going to read some quality, well-researched content on any given film we end up reviewing, well...

In any case, we let the people decide which movie I would patronize last night by posting a Twitter poll and about 60 percent of our audience chose “Onward” over “Call of the Wild.”

So I, a 20-something-year-old grad student, walked into a Disney Pixar screening, made my way to the back row, and settled in to watch a child’s movie. No popcorn, no drink, all business.


So Peter Parker - er, I mean, the dude that plays Spider-Man was the voice of the main character, Ian. You know, I can’t recall a single movie where the protagonist’s name was Ian. Weird. I digress.

At any rate, Ian is some kinda blue elf dude on the back end of his adolescence. He’s learning to drive a car, dealing with social awkwardness at school (who isn’t these days?) and trying to find his place in the world.

And this world is an interesting one. It’s not on Earth ‘cause I saw two moons in the sky, so we also can rule out the other planets in our solar system as well, unless Mars started flowing with pristine waters and lakes, and somehow filled with majestic creatures from European medieval folklore.

Let me try and explain the setting a little better: the planet used to be filled with magic, but learning magic was hard, so the magical creatures discovered electricity (which is easy??) and could turn on lights with the flip of the switch rather than casting a difficult spell, drive cars instead of gallop on their weary hooves, and fly on planes instead of using their energy-consuming wings. Like most societies on Earth, technological advances allowed citizens to work a little less hard. Other than the fact the characters were talking elves, giants, dwarves and other nerdy mythical creatures I wasn’t familiar with, it was basically an exact replica of modern America.

Machines do our jobs for us, so we can do all the nothing - subtle commentary from “Onward.”


So our boy Ian grew up without his dad, who died from some undescribed illness. He had no memories of his father whatsoever, he must’ve been like three or four when he died. Classic Disney, hitting us with the heavy stuff early.

He goes to a restaurant and runs into one of his father’s old friends, and the dude talks about how “bold” his dad was. Ian heads home and creates a list titled “New Me” and writes down a bunch of things that would make him more like his dad. I mean, we know nothing about his father and it seems Ian doesn’t either, so I’m not sure why all of the sudden he wanted to emulate him completely, but whatever. He fails to complete any of the tasks the next day, and after literally just one day of trying to better himself, he becomes instantly discouraged and disappointed with himself.

On his 16th birthday, his -speak-to-the-manager-type of mom hands him a wrapped present from his late father she was supposed to give Ian and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) once they were both 16 or older. Mom didn’t know what was inside it, which is about the least realistic part of the whole movie. Really? Twelve years without taking a peak at what Pops left for the kiddos? Ya, ok.

Anyways, it turns out to be some magical staff like Gandalf has. They find some spell that will bring back their father for a day so Barley tries to cast it to no avail. Hours later, they give up and Mom and Barley dip out. Ian gives it a whirl and it starts to work. Dad is coming back. But halfway through, Barley comes in and screws it all up, so it’s just their dad’s legs (which are alive and active) and the magical stone on the staff disintegrates and they can’t complete the spell.

So the whole movie is about the two brothers and their father’s legs going on a quest to find another one of those magical stones so they can bring back the rest of dad and ask him questions and seek his approval. Just like every son in America. We just want our dads to be proud of us, man.


Listen, I’ll never understand the insatiable obsession people have with Disney. It’s one of THE overrated entities in America. But I gotta hand it to them on this one. The setting was clever, the story was original yet relatable, and there were even a few scenes where I legit laughed out loud. Really wasn’t expecting that.

The thing I liked most about this movie was the dynamic between the brothers. Most films in Hollywood depict the older brother to be a complete jerk to the younger brother. He and his older friends always bully the young lad and it’s really a tired narrative.

In this film, the older brother played the role of one of those embarrassing dads who publicly show their love for you. Ian didn’t enjoy that. He thought Barley was a loser ‘cause he was obsessed with the old days and magic. He played some nerdy board game that I would probably equate to like, I don’t know, Settlers of Catan? I honestly have no idea what that game is about, but it looks medieval and nerdy as hell. And that’s what Barley was into.

catan board game
If my dad ever caught me playing this game, he’d throw a basketball at my head and tell me to get a life.

There’s a moment where Ian is casting a spell and it forces him to indirectly tell the truth and it comes out that he thinks Barley is a “screw-up.” That one hurt the big bro. It was quite sad. And later in the movie, Ian tells Barley straight up that he is, in fact, a screw-up, after something goes wrong at the movie’s climax.

Of course, they make up near the end of the movie and Ian realizes as he goes down the list of things he wanted to do with his dad, he already did with his big brother. So when there was only a minute left before their window to see Dad expired and only one of them could be there for that moment, Ian relents and lets his older brother do it because Barley bitched out and never said goodbye to his father when he was dying in the hospital ‘cause he was scared of all the tubes and wires coming out of him. Goodness that was sad. But yeah, at that decision point, Ian says to Barley, “I never had a dad, but I always had you.”

A lesser (or greater, if it comes to it) man would’ve shed a tear or two at that point. I held strong.

Anyway, Ian watches from a distance as Barley gets 60 seconds to talk with his dad. None of it was audible because we were watching from Ian’s perspective.

But after Dad disintegrates, Barley comes back and tells Ian a bit about what they talked about in the movie’s penultimate scene. I’ll save the rest from spoiling.


The only thing that wasn’t really believable was the beginning. I mean, this kid had no problem being himself for 16 years, and suddenly, by talking to a random stranger for two minutes at a fast food restaurant he wants to change everything about himself? Needed more buildup. More reasons to change who he was.

Also, the climax of the film seemed kind of forced. For a passive, non-confrontational and socially awkward kid, it seems highly unlikely that he would suddenly attack his older brother and tell him he really is a screw-up. He didn’t show an aggressive bone in his body for the entire movie. He was just a super nice, calm, level-headed dude. Didn’t seem believable that he’d absolutely roast his older brother like that.

I’m also not exactly sure who this film is trying to target. I mean, what six-to-10 year olds can relate to a dude trying to learn how to drive? And what 16-year old wants to watch a PG cartoon? Maybe I’m the one who’s out of touch, because when I was that age I was more into super-hero-type movies and my classmates were into skipping the movies altogether and going out to parties I wasn’t invited to. Lol? Either way, the movie is very new and the theater was very empty.


When Barley talks to Ian after speaking with his father, he says, “Also, Dad told me to give you this...” And Barley hugs Ian.

He wanted to give his son a hug.

No tears, no tears, damnit!


I went into this film with the lowest of expectations but I’ll be got-danged if I didn’t enjoy the heck out of it. A-minus, all day and twice on Sunday. It was funny, creative, and provided a nice lil tug at the ol’ heart strings. This was a movie about the relationship between two brothers, the universal quest to make our fathers proud, and the simple need to look inward for the strength to overcome our fears. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I have to highly recommend this Disney Pixar film to people of all ages. I spoiled quite a bit, but I left out a TON, and all of the funny parts. So you can still go see it and get some enjoyment out of it, I promise.


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