The animation studio conjures some of the old magic with a touching tale of childhood grief and brotherly bonding

Once upon a time, Pixar made inventive, original family stories, but in recent years they’ve leant heavily on sequels such as Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2 and Finding Dory. Has the magic gone? As their first original story since 2017’s Coco, Onward asks a similar question – and provides a very satisfactory answer. Its setting is a realm of mythical creatures who live much as modern-day humans do – less Middle-earth than 1970s fantasy art come to life. The magic has pretty much gone. The unicorns forage through suburban rubbish bins, and even though he could gallop at 70mph, the centaur cop drives a car – impractical as that may be.

Onward indicates early on that it is going to be a quest movie. It even signposts how it is not taking the straightforward route but the “path of peril”. As with the best of Pixar’s output, the journey is as much inward as outward (or onward). Our heroes are two blue-skinned elves: weedy, insecure Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and his slow-witted elder brother Barley (Chris Pratt, channelling Jack Black), whose encyclopedic knowledge of arcane magical lore might just come in handy. Their father died before Ian was born (mum is now dating the centaur cop), but he left the brothers an odd gift to open on Ian’s 16th birthday: a spell to bring him back for a day. As anyone who has seen the trailer will know, the spell only half-works: the bottom half. All the brothers end up with is their father’s feet and legs. How to materialise the rest of him before sunset? Quest time!

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