Director: Dan Scanlon
Voice Talent: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
Released: March 6, 2020
Best Animated Picture (lost to Soul)
This movie is set in a parallel universe in a town called New Mushroomton and all the residents who live there are fairy tale creatures such as elves (like our main characters), ogres, fairies, goblins, wizards, and pretty much anything you would find in a Harry Potter novel/movie. In this world, magic was once used, but once electricity was invented, "over time, magic faded away." With magic, you have to learn spells and it takes a discipline to perform them correctly, while with electricity, you just flip a switch on and off, so it's much easier. A lot of these mythical creatures don't use their features anymore. We see a fairy board a plane and many other winged creatures just don't fly because they haven't "exercised their wings". Unicorns are treated as pests with matted, mangy fur who rummage in the trash or hide out in caves.
The movie follows the two Lightfoot brothers, high-schooler Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother, Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt). They are elves and their mother, Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), describes Ian as being afraid of everything and Barley as being afraid of nothing. This is a pretty apt description. Ian's and Barley's father died right before Ian was born, so he doesn't remember him at all and Barley only has about three vivid memories of him. Apparently, these elves don't share the immortality of the Rivendell elves because their father died of an undisclosed sickness.
It is Ian's 16th birthday and he is wearing an old sweatshirt that his dad used to wear in college. This means a great deal to him since he never knew his dad and makes him feel closer to him. Unfortunately, Barley, who can be a bit of a clumsy oaf at times, end up accidentally ripping the shoulder of the sweatshirt. Ian decides to skip breakfast at home and grab something at Burger Shire. One of my favorite jokes in the movie was the sign outside Burger Shire that read "Now serving 2nd breakfast." Okay, its been a minute since I've seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy and I can't remember which movie it was (the first one, I think), but I love it when Merry/Pippin asks, "What about second breakfast?" They eat second breakfast? That is hilarious! So, yes, I appreciated that joke.
While Ian is waiting for his food, he meets an elf who knew Ian's father in college (his name was on his old sweatshirt that Ian was wearing) and he tells Ian his father was someone who people always noticed and was very bold, so basically the opposite of Ian. Ian is grateful that he's learned this new information about his dad and it inspires him to make a checklist titled "New Me." Earlier, his mother had told him that his birthday was a good start to try new things. On his list, he writes, "Speak up more", "Learn to drive", "Invite people to party", and "Be like Dad."
We will see him attempt these as he attends his classes at New Mushroomton High School that day, In one of his classes, a huge ogre student (like, he's probably four times bigger than Ian) sits behind Ian, but he also putt his huge green sandal-wearing foot on Ian's chair which means Ian barely has any room to sit (good thing he's skinny!) Ian speaks up and asks the ogre if he would not put his foot on his seat, but the ogre just replies he needs to do in order to keep the blood circulating to his brain. When Ian is taking his driver's lesson for the day, he gets too scared to merge and doesn't complete his driving task for the day. I do love that the stop signs in this world say "Halt" in a fancy, Medieval-like font.
So now he's zero for two on his list. At the end of the school day, he gets up the courage to invite a group of students (who seem to know him). It's super awkward the way he invites them because he's hemming and hawing and can't seem to spit the invitation out, but once they realize he's inviting them to a party, they agree to come. Ian suggests they take the bus to his house. It seems like Ian might actually get to check a box off his list, but here comes Barley driving erratically in his purple van he's named Guinevere with a unicorn painted on the side. In fact, the movie gets its name because Barley has covered the "D" on the gearshift and replaced it with a piece of tape that says "O", which he says is for Onward. When he sees that Ian has friend coming over, he tells his brother that he can take them all in his car. An embarrassed Ian quickly tells the others he just remembered his party was cancelled and scampers away, leaving them confused.
Their gift looks to be rolled up, almost like a carpet. Once it's unrolled, they find a wooden staff. Barley think this means their dad was a wizard, but Laurel is quick to tell them he was an accountant, something I'm sure they both already knew. Ian finds a note where their dad tells them there was once magic, but it faded away and hopes there is magic still in them. He wrote downtime Visitation Spell so his sons can perform it and he will be able to see who his sons grew up to be. The spell will bring their dad back "for one whole day." Along with the spell, he has also included the Phoenix Gem, which is very rare. (Makes you wonder where he found it, doesn't it? They never tell us). Barley places the gem in the staff and starts reciting the spell, but nothing happens. He keeps reciting it, but still nothing happens.
Barley tells Ian, "A person can only do magic if they have the gift" and he is thrilled that Ian "has the magic gift." My question is, why didn't thy have Ian try after all those failed attempts from Barley? I know, I know, it's for the plot of the movie. They need to get Laurel out of the house (she's picking up Ian's cake) for the next stage of the movie to happen. Ian may have the "magic gift", but he hasn't honed his skills. (Though to be fair, he is just a beginner. Like a literal beginner). They need to perform the spell again before the twenty-four hour time limit is up to see all of their dad. They just need to find another Phoenix Gem, you know, that gem is super rare and hard to find. No problem! (I still want to know where their dad found his Phoenix Gem).
Barley is obsessed with this board game called Quest of Yore, which is like Dungeons and Dragons? I guess? IDK, I've never played D&D. It's a board game where you go on adventures and there are cards that correlate to actual things and people in the real world. (Well, their real world). Barley's game has a card that gives stats about the Phoenix Gem which basically tells them to start at the place where all quests begin, The Manticore's Tavern because the owner knows where to find anything they'll need.
Weekend at Bernie's vibes.
While they drive to the Manticore's Tavern, Ian has created a new list of things he wants to do with his dad which includes "Play catch", "Take a walk", "Heart to Heart", "Laugh together," "Driving Lesson", and "Share my life with him." Even if he did have the allotted twenty-four hours with his dad, I still think he wouldn't have time to do all those things with him. It is a very sweet list, though.
Ian gets up the courage to talk to her and that's when she realizes she's been living a lie and that her life is boring and she needs adventure. We will learn later that she hasn't exercised her wings in a long time so she never flies and has come to live a mundane life. She ends up roaring and starts a fire (oh did I mention that she breathes fire?) The map ends up burning and they are unable to save it (guess they don't have a spell for reversing fire damage). In the car, Barley had told Ian that he was gonna have to practice his magic before he cast the spell again. Ian had been practicing a spell where he's supposed to levitate objects (no, not Wingardium Leviosa, but rather Aloft Elevar), but no matter how many times he tries, nothing happened. But now is he able to save his father's legs by being crushed by a falling burning beam by performing the spell and this time it works. I guess when you're under pressure and you're trying to save something, you have more agency in your magical capabilities. Just a guess. Makes sense to me.
The Lightfoots (Lightfeet?) make it safely back to the van. Even though the real map has burned, Barley had grabbed a children's menu. As he tells his brother, "On a quest, you have use what you've got And this is what we've got." Luckily he grabbed a menu where the word scramble had already been solved by a child patron and the answer to where to find the Phoenix Gem was "Raven's Point." They look at their road map and it shows that location in the mountains. They won't be able to get there until the next morning, but Barley tells Ian that they will still have plenty of time with their dad. Eh, I don't know about that.
Looking at the map, Ian tells Batley that the expressway should take them right there, but Barley thinks that's a little too obvious. He tells his little bro, "On a quest, the clear path is never the right one." Obviously, he's quoting from his favorite game. He thinks they should take "an ancient trail called the Path of Peril." The 'Path of Peril'? Are you kidding me? No, thanks. I'm with Ian: taking the expressway will be faster. That's why they call it the expressway. It seems like Barley just wants to have an adventure like his game and it's pretty obvious that we're going to find out Barley was right all along, but in the end, he agrees with Ian and take the expressway.
Meanwhile, Laurel had found the Phoenix Gem card lying on a table next to the note Barley had scribbled so so heads to the Manticore's Tavern which is now ablaze. She talks to Corey who tells her she told her sons about the gem, the map, and the curse, but then realizes she forgot to tell them about the curse. When giving her statement to a police officer, se says, "Last name Manticore, first name, The." This joke has been used many times, but it never fails to make me laugh. Laurel sees the smallest scratch on the Manticore and tells the cop she needs to give her first aid and when the cop turns his back, they both get in Laurel's car and she drives away.
Corey tells Laurel about the curse and that if her sons take the gem, "the curse will rise up and assume the form of a mighty beast and battle [them]." Her enchanted sword, The Curse Crusher, is the only weapon "forged with the rarest metal can destroy it." Unfortunately, she sold it to a pawn shop because she "got in a little tax trouble a few years back" (heh), but at least she knows where to find it.
Later, they will arrive at a strip mall where the pawn shop is located. Other shops in this area also include "Mystic Donuts", "Master Froyo", "Sir Snipz a Lot", and "Sword and the Scone." I'm sure the writers had a lot of fun with these! The proprietor of the pawn shop is a small female goblin voice by Tracey Ullman. She finds the sword and is willing to sell it to them for ten bucks, but then Corey (in a very stupid move) exclaims that it's made of rare metals and the only sword of its kind in all the land, so of course she ups the price to ten thousand dollars (or whatever currency they use). When Corey asks the goblin store owner if she knows who she is, the goblin replies, "Some kind of winged bear-snake lady?" and Corey corrects her: "Winged lion-scorpion lady!"
We get a hilarious scene where Laurel starts explaining and pleading to the goblin why she needs the sword, but Corey just stings her in the neck and she falls down, "only temporarily paralyzed" as she explains to Laurel. They grab the sword and Laurel still pays her the original price, plus a little extra "for her troubles."
I should mention that Laurel is dating a police officer named Colt Bronco who is a centaur. It's a great name for someone who is half horse, but it makes me squeamish that this elf has a romantic relationship with a centaur. It makes me think of when I was reading Harry Potter and we discovered that Hagrid's dad was a human and his mom was a giant (or was it the other way around?) It's like...how did they, uh, create Hagrid? I assume there was some magic involved there, but still. Eww, I don't want to think about that. There is a scene later on in the movie where it makes sense why they made Colt a centaur.
Barley tells him the Growth Spell is a bit more advanced and he has to follow a magic decree: "It's a special rule that keeps the spell working right." This means he can't let anything distract him while he's eating the spell. He does the spell (with some "helpful" tips from Barley, but they end up distracting him) and the can remains the same size. There is a hilarious reveal where we hear Barley, in a squeaky voice exclaim, "It worked! The can is huge!" Then we see that Barley himself is tiny. I honestly don't know how that happened since Ian never pointed his wand nowhere near Barley, but he must have gotten mixed up with the spell when he was interfering. It doesn't take long before Barley realizes what happens and tells Ian there are consequences if he messes up a spell, but luckily the side effects will wear off eventually.
They are able to find gas and Barley eventually becomes his normal size. While they were at the gas station, they come across this gang of pixies who are driving motorcycles (each motorcycle needs about ten pixies to control it since someone needs to push the gas pedal and someone needs to steer. These pixies may be little, but they are tough! If you look at them the wrong way, watch out! Little Barley gets in a fight with them (unintentional on his part, but they got super offended when he asked them why they just didn't use their wings and fly) and end up chasing the elves on the expressway. Of course, Barley is too small to drive, so Ian has to. With some help from Barley, he manages to merge onto the expressway and fight off the pesky pixies. During all this, Barley changes back to his regular self. They are pulled over for speedings and while their dad (their half dad?) stumbles out, looking like he's intoxicated, Barley confers with Ian and tells him to do a disguise spell and that he can disguise himself to be anyone he wants: "Disguising yourself is a lie, so you must tell the truth to get by." As long as he doesn't tell a lie, the spell will be fine.
While the two police officers (voiced by Ali Wong and Lena Waithe) are about to take their dad to the station, Ian disguised as Colt Bronco comes out. Remember when I said there was a reason for Colt being a centaur? Well, this is it. While Ian is disgusting the front of Colt, Barley is behind him, crouched down, disguised at the back. I guess centaurs need two people to disguise them, like they're a Halloween costume or something? :::Shrug::: Okay, whatever. He starts out telling a lie when the other two officers told him they thought he was working the other end of town and he tells them he changed his mind. This makes "Colt's" ear change into Ian's elf ear. He tries to hide it by moving is neck and tells them he has a neck cramp which further complicates things by changing "Colt's" hand into Ian's original elf hand. Barley tells him he has to stop lying and to "answer every question with a question." I guess they cops can't hear Barley. Ian takes his advice and things start going more smoothly. That is, until one of the cops tells Colt that Laurel's eldest son is a screwup. "Colt" says he does't agree with her, but then one of his horse legs changes to Ian's skinny denim-clad leg, and of course Barley sees this so he knows his brother is lying and agrees with this harsh statement. This makes Ian become flustered and he starts lying more and rapidly starts changing back to his elf self. One cop just laughs it off, but the other is suspicious and calls dispatch to have her put through to Officer Bronco.
There is awkward silence in the van as they continue their journey. Ian tells him he doesn't think he's a screwup and perhaps the magic got it wrong. Barley pulls over and tells Ian that he doesn't think he (Barley) has any good ideas. Ian tries to deny this and when Barley tells him he thinks they should take the Path of Peril, Ian replies, "I think that would be good, normally..but this isn't a game. All that matters today is Dad." It's at that moment they notice their father's legs dancing in the back of the van to the music on the radio that was still turned on. Even though he can't hear the music, he "can feel the vibrations of the music." After some fun dancing with their dad, Ian finally agrees to take the Path of Peril. When Barley takes the turn onto a bumpy gravely road though a bunch of scary trees, the rear bumper with the license plate that says "Gwniver" falls off. Gee, I wonder if this will help somebody who's looking for them? Oh, yep, I was right. Here come Colt and he sees and recognizes the license plate so he follows the path.
It's now the next morning and Barley and Ian have come to "the bottomless pit", this huge gap in the middle of nowhere. Barley almost drove right into it because he had turned to talk to Ian. It's like, look where you're going! Luckily Ian screamed at him to stop. As Ian is standing very, very close to the edge, Barley tells him, "Whatever falls in there, falls forever." Hmm, I'd be telling him to "back it up!" Their father's legs, who they don't have the leash around, starts walking and actually walks off the edge of the cliff and his sons catch him. Yikes! A bunch of pebbles fall instead.
Ian takes a deep breath and tries the spell again. This time he steps out onto nothing and the spell words. However, on his second step, he begins to fall, but Barley pulls him back up with the rope and reminds him to "believe with every step." Ian does this and he is able to make it halfway across...and that's when the rope unties from his back. All I could think was thank God the rope didn't until when he first fell! I'm honestly surprised Ian didn't notice the rope wasn't still tied around him, but perhaps he was concentrating so hard on making himself believe he was walking on a bridge that he didn't even notice. Barley has this horrified expression on his face and he tells his brother to just keep going and look straight ahead, and not to look back. I think this would be good advice even if the rope was still tied to him. Ian exclaims, "This is amazing!" He asks Barley if he still has the rope and Barley says he does. Yes, good answer. And this is a perfect example of when it's alright to lie!
Ian is so overconfident because he thinks he has the rope and the magic is working perfectly. He says how alive and amazing he feels and that he could stay out there all day and starts dancing. Not surprisingly, this is making Barley anxious and he reminds his little brother to keep moving and to remember they're there for their dad (did I just use they're, there, and their all in one fell swoop?) and to get as much time with him as possible. By this time, Ian is one step away from reaching there other side of the huge gap and says he's taking his last step for their time. When he says that, he looks back and sees Barley holding the rope. This causes the magic to break and he starts falling. Very luckily, he is able to catch a protruding stone and pull himself up. Thank goodness he didn't look back earlier! His confidence drained, he lowers the drawbridge and Barley drives his van across. He notices a large stone raven atop the bridge and thinks thats significant since the clue said "Raven's Point." The raven is literally pointing with its beak towards the side of the gap where they just came from. From there, they can see another raven statue that's also pointing in that direction. Bailey thinks this will lead them to their gem. If I were Ian, I would be a little irked that I walked across that gap for nothing
He keeps driving before they find themselves trapped on the side of a cliff. On one side, there's a steep drop and they're barricaded from the other side because cop cars are driving towards them The backup Colt called for sure showed up quick! Barley tells Ian to do the "Arcane Lighting" spell, which is one of the harder spells but he thinks Ian is ready. He wants Ian to use his magic to dislodge two huge boulders that are up in the mountain and have them block the road. Ian tries this a couple times, but he is unsuccessful. The cops are getting closer, so Barley goes to another plan. He takes a big rock and puts it on the gas pedal and puts Guinevere in "O" and lets her drive towards the cop. What happens next seems a little too precise; like there's no way he would know that his plan would work: the van drives up a slanted rock and flies towards the big boulder and crashes into it, thus breaking the boulder an it falls to the ground to block the path like they had originally planned. Like, WTF? That is the luckiest thing to have happened.
Now they are able to continue without any cop interference and they keep following the raven statues. They do this for awhile until they come to a raven statue where the beak is pointing towards the ground. Ian takes a little stone tablet that is inserted in the bird and it has a symbol etched into it that indicates water as well as an "X". They go into a cave where they follow a river. Barley thinks the gem will where the river ends. Ian is (rightfully so) worried that the river could go on for miles. (I guess they don't have a map for where they are so they can't determine long long the river is). He checks his watch and we see they have a little over five hours before their dad will be completely gone forever.
Barley suggests that Ian use a Velocity Spell to make them speed down the river really fast. There's not much to float on, but he's been eating Cheeto-like snacks, so Ian makes one of them bigger and they float on that. (Barley also occasionally munches on it, and, not gonna lie, I would probably do the same thing. At one point, the boat doesn't seem to be going that fast, but this is when Ian and Barley are having a heart to heart when Barley is telling him about a memory with their dad he's never shared with Ian: when their dad was sick and hooked up to a bunch of tubes, Barley was supposed to say goodbye, but he was too scared to go in the room because their dad didn't look like himself. He tells Ian, "That's when I decided I was never gonna be scared ever again."
They reach the point where the water stops and it's almost like they're in a video game where they have to dodge a bunch of traps. After all they, they come out out a manhole and are in their own town, right across the street from Ian's school. They're right back where they started. Ian is irate. He thinks theme was in the mountains the whole time and points out they could have had it hours ago if they had just stayed on the expressway. Ian calls Barley a screwup and tells him he's screwed up his chance of meeting their dad. He walks away with their dad and tells Barley he's gonna "spend what little time [they] have left with [him]." Barley tells him they can still find the Phoenix Gem if they keep looking, but Ian is having none of it. He takes his dad to some rocks overlooking the water and takes out his checklist and crosses out "heart to heart" and "laugh together." He's about to cross out "driving lesson", but pauses and realizes he did have a driving lesson, only it was with Barley. He checks the box next to it. He then has an epiphany that he has shared many, if not all, of these items on his checklist with Barley. We see a flashback of them growing up together and Ian checks the box next to "share my life with him." Damnit, movie, stop making me cry!
Meanwhile, Barley is at a fountain/statue across the street from the school. He has climbed on top of it and notices there's an insert that perfectly fits the stone tablet. He puts it in and the Phoenix Gem is revealed. He takes it and red smoke starts to appear and soon covers everything around the vicinity. The smoke goes into the school and starts ripping away the stones and bricks and other material that makes up the building. A dragon is formed, made out of all these materials. It uses the face of the dragon mascot painted on the side of the school. It's a little unsettling because the face of the dragon is smiling and looks like a friendly kids show TV character, but it's also kinda funny. By this time Ian and their dad have walked back towards Barley and he sees what's going on. The dragon starts chasing Barley as he runs and he throws the gem because he knows that's what the dragon wants, only it was a decoy - it was the headlight from his car.
Meanwhile, their dad is still manifesting. This seems to be taking very long time. No wonder people didn't like using magic once electricity was discovered. It reminds me of when I used AOL back in the day and it took forever to log on. Ian is able to create a new wand from a splinter in his hand that he got from the old one. This time he is able to defeat the dragon and rocks fly everywhere and Ian is covered in a pile of rocks. He's okay, but he's a bit trapped so there's no time for him to get to his dad. All he can do is watch from a small crevice where he can see Barley and the back of his fully formed father. He is also able to see the sun is getting very close to setting. We are seeing this happen all through Ian's perspective. We can't hear what Barley and his dad saying, we just can tell that they're talking, then laughing, then his dad gives him a hug, and yep, once again, I'm crying. Thanks, Pixar.
A moment later, Barley helps Ian up from the rocks and when Ian asks him what their dad said, he replies, "He said he's very proud of the person you grew up to. be" and Ian tells him he owes that to him (Barley). Barley also adds that their dad told hive to "give [him] this" and proceeds to hug Ian. My question is, did their father know why Ian couch't be there? Did he know what was going on? I know he was there the entire time, but at the same time, he wasn't because he couldn't hear or see anything. But did he realize what the entire journey was about with just him legs? We see them talking a little, but I doubt Barley had enough time to explain and probably wanted to spend the precise time he did have with his dad not explaining things. Also, can't they just do this spell again or does it only one work once you use it on someone? OMG, does anyone remember remember that episode of Buffy where Dawn used a spell to bring Joyce back, but Buffy stops her right before Joyce comes to the door? You see her silhouette and it is the creepiest thing. Also, after I read Pet Semetary years ago, I could not let my cat sleep in my bed for a week because I was so freaked out by the cat that came back from the dead in that book. Yeah, not a fan of bringing things back from the dead! But at least in this movie, it wasn't creepy.
So the brothers became closer than they ever were before and everyone is happy. It makes me wonder if this is the brother version of Frozen? Barley now has a new van he's fixed up and Ian can make it fly and the movie ends with the two of them flying down the neighborhood. I was half expecting for one of them to say, "Roads? Where we're going we don't need roads!" I mean, this was literally the same ending to Back to the Future!