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Review: Pixar's 'Onward'


Imagine a world filled with mythical creatures but not with magic. That was the task for Pixar's animators when they were making the new film "Onward." Critic Bob Mondello says it's a road trip movie about two teens on a quest.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Teenage brothers Ian and Barley are living perfectly ordinary lives...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Morning.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Morning.

TOM HOLLAND: (As character) Hey, Mom.

MONDELLO: ...In a world where even taking out the trash is not quite ordinary.


HOLLAND: (As Ian) Get out of here. Go. Ugh, unicorns.

MONDELLO: They're elf brothers in a suburbia where houses look like mushrooms, sprites get around on motorcycles and the pet that greets Ian at his front door breathes fire.


JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Laurel) Bad dragon - back to your lair.

MONDELLO: Ian's turning 16.


LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Laurel) Happy birthday, Mr. Adult Man.

HOLLAND: (As Ian) No, Mom - gross.

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Laurel) Hey, buddy, don't wipe off my kisses.

HOLLAND: (As Ian) What?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Laurel) You're wearing your dad's sweatshirt.

HOLLAND: (As Ian) Oh, you know, finally fits.

MONDELLO: When his brother Barley shows up, this prompts a presentation - a gift Mom's been saving from the dad Ian never met and that Barley barely knew.


CHRIS PRATT: (As Barley) It's a wizard staff.

MONDELLO: And a piece of parchment.


HOLLAND: (As Ian) I wrote this spell so I could see for myself who my boys grew up to be.


PRATT: (As Barley) This spell brings him back.

HOLLAND: (As Ian) Back like back to life?

LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Laurel) He wanted to meet you more than anything.

MONDELLO: Of course, the devil's in the details.


PRATT: (As Barley) Holy toot of Zaydar (ph). How did you...

HOLLAND: (As Ian) I don't know. It just started.


HOLLAND: (As Ian) Dad?

PRATT: (As Barley) Ah, he's just legs. There's no top part. I definitely remember Dad having a top part.

HOLLAND: (As Ian) Oh, what did I do?

MONDELLO: "Spider-Man's" Tom Holland voices insecure Ian. "Jurassic World's" Chris Pratt is amusingly game and magic obsessed as his older brother Barley, and they're decently matched as they try to resurrect Dad's other half. This requires a quest for the jewel that - oh, it doesn't really matter. A quest is a quest. See; just behind this one is that where once there was magic in the world, folks decided that spells and sorcery were too tough to master.


PRATT: (As Barley) Believe with every step.

MONDELLO: So they replaced them with technology - light bulbs rather than ethereal glows, a centaur who could gallop but drives a police cruiser, a critter that's part lion, part scorpion and once stood guard over treasure...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Quick, somebody help me. These griffin nuggets were supposed to go out minutes ago.

MONDELLO: ...Now runs a theme restaurant...


HOLLAND: (As Ian) That's The Manticore.

MONDELLO: ...Which means that Ian and Barley are looking, in "Onward," for the same thing that audiences generally look to Pixar for - magic. And they find it on occasion in a touching finale, for instance, that has everything to do with the bonds of family and of brotherly love. If the road to that emotional magic is less enchanting than Pixar at its best, well, we're talking "Onward" here not upward. And even mid-level Pixar still casts a spell.

I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.