At times, the Pixar movie Onward plays like an animated adaptation of a lost story by J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. It follows elf brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) on a quest to retrieve a gem and complete the magic spell that will allow them to spend 24 hours with their deceased father. Along the way, Ian and Barley must get a map from the sphinxlike Manticore, escape vengeful sprites and navigate a trap-filled labyrinth.
There are a few key differences between Ian and Barley’s adventures and those of Frodo Baggins or Lucy and Edmund Pevensie. The trap-filled labyrinth exits on a street between a high school and construction site. The sprites who pursue the Lightfoot brothers travel by motorcycle instead of fairy wings. The Manticore’s tavern is a TGI Fridays-style family restaurant, not a resting place for weary warriors.
This mix between the magical and the mundane gives Onward its charm. Although it features fantasy creatures instead of humans, its elves, goblins and trolls live in suburbs and hold down boring office jobs. With the invention of electricity, the film’s opening narration tells us, the citizens of New Mushroomton traded magic for modernity.