Disney-Pixar's Onward is an animated quest with a heart

Onward (PG)

4 stars

Ian (Tom Holland) in Onward. Picture: Disney/Pixar

Ian (Tom Holland) in Onward. Picture: Disney/Pixar

This Disney/Pixar film had preview screenings just before the cinemas were closed, but it might turn up on Disney+ sooner rather than later. Keep an eye out for it - it's worth seeing.

If your mother or father died when you were young, you will probably find this story particularly easy to relate to, with its themes of loss and hope and love.

Onward is set in a world rather like ours, except that it is populated by cyclops, centaurs and other mythical creatures. Long ago, magic was commonplace but advances in technology made it pretty much obsolete. Question: why wouldn't supernatural powers still be prized? Oh, well. As the title says, onward.

Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) is an insecure, painfully shy teenage elf. His older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) is a brash role-playing gamer and history buff. They live in suburbia with their widowed mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). She's developing a new relationship with Colt Bronco, a centaur police officer.

The boys' father, Wilden, died before Ian was born so, although Barley has some memories of their dad, Ian has none. Apart from photos, the only connection Ian has to his father is a brief 1tape recording.

On Ian's 16th birthday, Laurel presents her sons with a three-part gift from Wilden: a magical staff, a rare gem and a visitation spell which will bring back Wilden for one day.

Ian is able to cast the spell but not altogether successfully: only the bottom half of Wilden appears. The boys jump into Barley's battered old van Guinevere and embark on a quest to find another gem and complete the spell - and see their father - before time runs out.

So begins a diverting series of encounters and adventures, obstacles and achievements. The boys visit the Manticore's Tavern - now a family restaurant - to acquire a crucial map for their journey.

The adventure component is full of colour and incident, with many challenges to overcome including a bottomless chasm, and there are many funny moments

It doesn't go quite as planned, but they keep going, encountering various strange creatures and overcoming challenges and obstacles along the way. And the police are in pursuit of the runaways, too.

The elements of the film don't seem to combine quite as well as they might. The adventure component is full of colour and incident, with many challenges to overcome including a bottomless chasm, and there are many funny moments.The heart of the story - the relationship between the siblings and the desire to see their father - doesn't always seem to be as focused on as it could be.

I predicted the ending well before it came and, while it works in its own way, it felt a little unsatisfying. It is preceded by a big action sequence which seemed unnecessary: we'd had plenty of spectacle, now it was time for the resolution.

One interesting thing to note is that there is an (minor) lesbian character in the film. This is described done with a fleeting line, but is Pixar testing the waters to introduce a gay or lesbian hero? We can only wait and see.

Because of its sometimes fuzzy focus, Onward isn't quite up there with the very best of Pixar, like Toy Story.

However, it is still better than many animated films and doesn't feel like it's just an excuse for merchandising.

It's emotionally involving, adventuresome and fun.

This story Emotional story of a sibling quest first appeared on The Canberra Times.