Our culture has mocked the family, especially fathers, for decades. Even during this crisis when we’ve realized how important families are, some continue to call it a mistake. Pixar’s latest film, “Onward,” finally breaks the mold. If you missed this hidden gem since it came out on theatres right before the lockdown started, don’t wait any longer. It’s a movie that celebrates fathers and father-figures. It follows two teenage brothers in their journey to find their father. In doing so, they discover old virtues are forgotten in their time but necessary for manhood.
The story is set in a mythical land full of mythical creatures like elves, centaurs, fauns, unicorns, and fairies, who lost their knowledge of magic after the development of modern technology. Think of Narnia turning into the suburbs of Chicago.
They lost the old ways because the new ways were easier. While a spell to ignite a fire was difficult to master, requiring confidence and drive, anyone could flip a switch and turn on a light. Centaurs, which used to run at 70 miles per hour, now cruise the streets in patrol cars, and even fairies have forgotten how to fly. The monuments of the old world were being torn down as the town was forgetting its past and the virtues that went along with it.
While the story centers on Ian, it is Barely who is in many ways the hero. He’s the one with the knowledge, wisdom, and wait to see the journey through, the one who always believes in his younger brother and encourages him to believe in himself. The one who gets the fairies to fly again and the centaurs to run. The one who leads the land in its rediscovery pf its nature. He is the father figure, the male role model who leads the way.
Helping them without their knowledge is their mother, Laurel. She is not an overprotective mother who tries to stop the boys on their journey to meet their father. Even when she finds out her boys are in danger, she sees her role as helping them face that danger rather than avoiding it or giving up. She just wants to make sure that they make it to the end alive. In the midst of it, she’s even encouraged to hear that Ian is growing a spine.
In a time men are portrayed at best as fools and at worst as oppressors, “Onward” is a breath of fresh air. The story shows the importance of Fatherhood and the consequences of its absence. As Fatherhood is to the home, so are ancient values and the city are losing themselves in modern times, and they both have to look back at what made them strong to rediscover their strength.