Onward it is not a simple animated film but a real session of the most famous role-playing game in the world. The key elements are all there: the elves, the tavern, the manticore, the dungeon, dragons and even the gelatinous cube. Something is missing? Ah, yes… There are also the first metal protagonist and the first admittedly LGBT + appearance in the history of Disney / Pixar, as well as a mountain of goodies that will delight fans of D&D and the Tolkien universe.

SPOILER ALERT: in this article non you will run into plot spoilers (unless you have not even seen the trailer) but there will be a whole paragraph dedicated to Easter Eggs. If you want to tackle the vision "in the dark", I recommend that you avoid that part or close the article.

SYNOPSIS

In a world where technology has slowly supplanted magic, the Lightfoot family find themselves embroiled in a bizarre adventure. The father, who passed away before being able to meet his second son, left his wife an object with the request to deliver it to the children when the minor was 16 years old. This gift consists of a magic stick with a stone and a spell able to bring him back to life for twenty-four hours, so that he can hug loved ones again.

Young Ian, insecure and clumsy, ends up breaking the stone and the spell only works… halfway. Literally: only the legs of the father are recalled. Together with his brother Barley, Ian has until sunset the next day to find another stone and complete the magic. Will the two young elves succeed in completing the quest? You will find out just by watching the film, because there are no plot spoilers here.

Iam and Barley Lighfoot with their father.
Ian and Barley with their father, or what's left of it.

PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION OF ONWARD

Onward born from the well-established combination of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios.

To the direction we find Dan Scanlon, Pixar veteran and already known for the direction of the sympathetic Monsters University. Curiously, Scanlon claimed to have found inspiration following the discovery of a cassette recorded by his late father, of which he had no memory. Watching the film, it is impossible not to make a parallel with Ian while he listens to his father's voice and repeats a usual dialogue with an audio cassette.

As per Pixar tradition, nothing to say about the technical sector: the animation is impeccable and the rendering of the settings is simply perfect, down to the smallest detail. The script is not as thorough as I would have hoped but, all in all, nothing tragic.

As for distribution, it must be recognized that the film has a rather troubled history.

Onward was presented last February at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival, of which we spoke in this article for the choice to abolish the gender distinction in the award for the best actor performance. Released in US theaters on March 6, it met with a lukewarm reception from the public, perhaps also thanks to the first fears of the ongoing pandemic. Because of lockdown, the film was released first as a digital download and then on the Disney + platform.
In Italy it was distributed in cinemas under the title of Onward - Beyond the magic starting from 19 August. Curiously, many months before its release in our theaters, in DVD released in the UK the audio track with the Italian dubbing was already present and this prompted some fans to buy it online.

Ian Lightfoot listening to his father's voice.

CHARACTERS

IAN LIGHTFOOT (Tom Holland): clumsy and clumsy, he is a sixteen-year-old elf who struggles to relate to his peers and to be respected, both by his companions and in the family. Basically, he tries to stay afloat and deal with the absence of his father, which he wants to live up to.

BARLEY LIGHTFOOT (Chris Pratt): a few years older than Ian, he is the always sunny and positive brother, he launches into a thousand adventures and seems not to be afraid of anything. In my opinion, he is the best written and best characterized character, to the point of undermining his brother from the lead role.

LAUREL LIGHTFOOT (Julia Louis-Dreyfus): mother of the two young elves, not much is known about her except that she is a widow, does gymnastics at home and has an affair with Colt Bronco. In times of need, there will be no qualms about taking matters in hand and setting out on an adventure.

WILDEN LIGHTFOOT (Kyle bornheimer): Ian and Barley's late father, he is described as a self-confident and fearless man, wearing a pair of inevitable purple socks. The absence of the upper half of the body does not prevent it from showing some hint of personality.

BRONCH COLT (Mel Rodriguez): centaur, policeman and companion of Laurel, he is distinguished by the ugliness of his puns and the lack of a real relationship with the young Lightfoot.

THE MANTICORA (Octavia Spencer): name "La" and surname "Manticora", Corey to friends, is a former warrior who provided puzzles to the aspiring patrons of her tavern, before reinventing herself as an entrepreneur and owner of a fantasy / medieval-themed family restaurant .

Onward characters
The characters of Onward.

ADVANTAGES OF ONWARD

NEW

We cannot deny that we are faced with what appears to be, in effect, a small experiment by the Disney / Pixar "laboratories", given the amount of unusual elements introduced with this film.

First of all, the first metalhead character in the history of the Californian production company appears. Barley demonstrates his love for the genre not only from the music he listens to in the car but also with what he wears: in addition to the inevitable studs on his wrist, the patches that cover his denim vest are clear parodies / tributes to the logos of well-known groups of the international metal scene. To these elements are also added the ordinance trousers with large pockets, tattoos and the shirt of Dungeons & Dr… Um, I meant Quests of Yore. Surely not everyone will have liked the stylistic choice but I think it was really time to insert a character like that, moreover on the side of good. Last but not least, do we really want to ignore the name that refers to the barley with which beer is made? Nothing is missing.

The aesthetics and the narrative cut of the film, then, are very different from those to which Pixar has accustomed us. Clearly this element is divisive and the public is split between those who expected nothing else and who, on the contrary, expected something else. As for me, I really appreciated the choice to produce a different title, able to give space to fantasy in a more classic sense and bring children closer to role playing.

Geneva / Guineviere

DUNGEONS & DRAGONS

We are certainly not new to references to D&D in products much loved by the public, see Stranger Things of which we have talked to you Thu. In the case of Onward, however, it was decided to let the protagonists live a real session of the most famous role-playing game in the world and to use it as a narrative device to tell the development of the characters.

I can already hear some friends scolding me for seeing references to manuals even where they don't exist. This time, I swear, I have the perfect excuse: in the film there are so many references to have inserted, in the credits, an explicit thanks to W for advice and collaboration.

From the very beginning of the film, in fact, we come across Quests of Yore, a kind of mash-up between Dungeons & Dragons e Magic: The Gathering but historically accurate. Barley doesn't just love the game but embraces its values ​​in every aspect of his existence, living in a constant campaign of QoY. As her adventure with Ian progresses, the spells become more and more complex and require special precautions to be performed. All this is consistent with a D&D session, if we notice.

Let's face it, Barley is the dungeonmaster (and the brother) perfect: as much as he believes in magic with all his heart and hopes to master it, he shows no envy or anger towards Ian when the latter discovers that he is a sorcerer. On the contrary, instead, he guides and advises him, acting as a mentor and supporting him throughout the adventure. What is truly extraordinary is the awareness of seeing a role player being born before our eyes, one choice and one challenge at a time.

Only note for Barley: was it really necessary to start from the usual tavern?

The tavern of the manticore.

FANTASY WORLD, REAL PROBLEMS

Although the story unfolds in a world clearly fruit of the imagination, it is nice to observe how difficulties typical of our life are incorporated by banal human beings.

To be presented to us first is a reflection on magic that is supplanted by technology, after having unlearned to use one's skills by relying on external tools. The idea is really interesting and it is a pity that it is dismissed in the opening scenes without deepening it. It would have been useful to guide the characters on a sweaty recapture of their magic but a different choice was made.

Also really appreciable is the fact that the death of his father is, albeit subtly, attributed to a tumor or a serious disease such as cancer. Thinking about it, we realize how, despite being in a fantasy world, magic has not been able to heal it. This awareness is very real, very earthly, and it is unusual to be treated like this in a Pixar film set out of the ordinary. In Up, for example, the disease is clearly visible but the magic is not present.

Finally, I believe the total absence of the relationship with the father is the strong point of the story. Not everyone appreciated the choice, as it turns out to be almost an accessory without involvement. Personally, however, I think the choice of making it disappear into the background to give space to the two brothers and their adventure together is really interesting.

MUSIC

The music column, although it has no iconic songs, harmonizes perfectly with the story and accompanies the protagonists in the adventure in an impeccable way. As for me, I kept it in the background for most of the writing of the article and I recommend you run to listen to it. To sign the song in the credits is the folk singer Brandi Carlile, while the original music is by the brothers Jeff e Mychael Danna.

DEFECTS OF ONWARD

QUEERBAITING

The most avoidable flaw of Onward, in my opinion, is the blatant queerbaiting implemented with the policewoman.
It is a more than marginal character, with just a couple of minutes of screen, which does not present any kind of characterization or development. It is basically put there for say to have a partner and justify the media campaign that pushed a lot on this elusive "first admittedly LGBT + character in Disney history". Do we really want to believe that just naming a homosexual relationship is enough to normalize it or to bring real inclusiveness to the public? The feeling it leaves is that of a lure to draw people to the cinema and create a rainbow facade without actually engaging in character writing. queer

Moreover, this choice greatly penalized the distribution of the film, which was banned from the cinemas of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, in the Arabic dub, the agent refers to his sister's son rather than his girlfriend. In Russia, on the other hand, it was chosen to keep a generic "partner" to avoid incurring unpleasant consequences due to the infringement of the gay propaganda law. Finally, in Poland the dialogue with a simple "stepdaughter" was adapted. For what? For a tasteless appearance? Personally, I don't think it was worth the boycott like this to give the LGBT + community a sop.

If nothing else, to dub Agent Specter in the original version, we find a truly lesbian actress: Lena Waithe. Not that it's any consolation, mind you.

Agent Specter.

DUBBING

A completely questionable imperfection is that of the dubbing of Laurel, animated by the voice of Sabrina Ferilli. It cannot be said that the actress is in her first experience dubbing an animated film, after Ballerina and the whole Cars saga (in which she gives voice to Porsche Sally), yet she continues to screech with respect to the other professionals involved.

If nothing else, despite the presence of some cameos of famous people like Favij and Raul Cremona, the protagonists are voiced by professionals and you can hear them. Fabio Volo is the narrator but he has very few lines, to the delight of those who still turn up their noses despite having already played Po in Kung Fu Panda.

EPIDERMAL NARRATION

The real sore point of Onward it is the general superficiality: although themes of a certain depth are introduced, they remain hinted at and not very elaborate. This also applies to the writing of all the secondary characters, who would have deserved much more space and characterization.

Likewise, there is no real danger, an insurmountable final boss to face or a test that really puts them in trouble for more than a few minutes. Obviously the obstacles are not lacking but the feeling is that there is no adequate enemy and that they get away with it thanks to a magnanimous master. Thinking about it, however, one could identify a kind of inner enemy to be defeated in Ian's shyness, in Barley's memories or in the true nature of the Manticore.

EASTER EGG

(As mentioned at the beginning of the article, skip this paragraph and go directly to the final reflections if you want to try to find them yourself.)

There are so many curious details and quotes in Onward, that it would simply be impossible to notice or name them all. This list, therefore, is not exhaustive but only the expression of an exhausted editor, by dint of looking and re-examining the title in question. What is comforting, however, is the fact that numerous visions weren't enough to make me hate him.

One of mine Easter egg favorites is made up of references to various bands of the metal scene, first of all that of ai Puddle of Mudd. In fact, a poster of the Puddle of Mush tour can be seen on the bedroom wall as the Lightfoot brothers try out their father's spell.

I don't know about you, but I would more than willingly go to a concert with Barley.

Personally, I also loved the tribute to the Arthurian cycle of the choice to call Geneva Barley's inseparable four-wheeled companion. Despite being shabby and falling apart, he always keeps her by his side as the most elegant of steeds.

REFERENCES TO OTHER PIXAR STOCKS

Let's start with the inevitable Pizza Planet van, present in every film Pixar with the exception of the first chapter of The Incredibles. Here it becomes the delivery vehicle of Pizza Realm, to better fit the fantasy setting of Onward.

Pizza Planet Truck Onward Easter Egg
Do you see the van in the last lane on the right?

Furthermore, in the scene at the Manticore tavern, you can see what looks like a mouse with a chef's hat on its head. Let it be Remy di Ratatouille? On one wall, however, the Luxury Ball, the ubiquitous yellow and red ball of the Pixar.

Ratatouille Easter egg Onward
Over there, at the bottom right, in the corner. The similarity is undeniable.

You remember chewing gum Tripledent, whose advertising jingle made Anger in anger lose his temper Inside Out? If you look closely, you can also see the same brand of chewing gum on the shelf at the gas station and in the hand of one of the motorcyclist elves.

TripleDent Easter egg Inside Out
You can see the tires in the blue package.

While Barley tries to save the thumbnails of Quests of Yore from the clumsiness of Colt Bronco, however, some vinyls can be glimpsed in the background. With the right zoom and the loss of a couple of diopters, it is possible to notice that the artist on the cover is certain Dorothea Williams. If the name doesn't sound familiar to you, get ready to find it again in the next movie Pixar output: Soul. Still on the subject of agent Bronco, on the police radio you hear the code "A-113“, Recurring in many titles of the Californian house.

Colt Bronco and Barley Lightfoot
The offending vinyl is the one with a white and purple cover. Will that miniature be of Gandalf, Merlin or just any sorcerer / wizard?

In the opening scene you can see some night howlers, that is the flowers present in Zootropolis, Some troll di Frozen and what it would appear to be Bonnie di Toy Story in a fauna version, complete with a clip in the hair. It is a few fast frame but nothing escapes the eye of the hunters Easter egg.

United Realms
You can spot Bonnie and the trolls on the edge of the cliff.

In addition, there are two references to Brave - Rebel. In the calendar hanging in Ian's room the wood of the film is depicted and, in the map consulted by the two brothers, we can find “The Brave Wilderness” and “Loch Lake”, referring to the Scottish lake of Lochness.

United Realms map
The fact that New Mushroomton is part of the United Realms is consistent with theories that see Pixar films as set in a shared universe.

REFERENCES TO TOLKIEN

The place where Ian stops for a bite to eat before going to school is called Shire Burger and the sign reads "Now serving 2nd breakfast". Clear the reference to the County from which the adventures of de The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. After all, let's face it, the second breakfast is still too underestimated and should be included among the fundamental achievements of the contemporary age.

Burger Shire second breakfast

But this is only the first of the many references to the world of Arda that we can find inside the film. The most obvious is Ian's magic staff, very similar to the one held by Gandalf in the cinematographic transpositions of books. It also appears in the hand of a certain sorcerer who remembers our favorite Istar.

Gandalf in Onward

Another appeal is given by the cans of Mountain Doom appearing in the gas station: in addition to being a parody of the famous soda Mountain Dew, can not escape the mention in Mount Doom. Still not sound familiar? Does Monte Fato tell you anything? If you look closely you will notice that a volcano is drawn on the package, instead of the mountain of the original logo.

Mountain Doom Easter egg
Be careful not to drop the ring in the can, tesssssoro.

CONCLUSIONS

Onward it's a powerful, moving film and a pleasant surprise at home Pixar Animation Studios. Although the finish is not forced towards a cloying "And they all lived happily ever after”, Does not leave a bad taste in the mouth and does not disappoint at all. Following the journey of Ian and Barley teaches us to believe in ourselves, to rediscover our potential and to get out of comfort zone to embark on an adventure. All of this, of course, letting ourselves be accompanied and guided by those we love.

I must admit that the underlying message really struck me very closely: just a few months ago, after a long period of rest, I was able to return and it was really like being a child again. For once, I decided to give up and not master, getting closer to D&D as a player. Of course, unlike Ian, my sorcerer risked killing himself in the second session by jumping a crevasse of less than three meters… but these are details due to my proverbial bad luck with the dice.

The point is another, though: Onward shows how to get involved, challenge your fears and fight your limits, learning to trust and trust. And this, in addition to a wise choice of life, I think it is also the very essence of role play.