Pixie Dust

There’s undeniable irony in Onward’s introduction, mourning a past where magic ruled, long before technology sapped imagination from our lives – then using the highest-grade technology to produce an animated movie instead of, say, traditional methods.

Onward isn’t using the modern era to suggest a social casualty. Rather, it considers cell phones and convenience a coping method. Distractions from problems, from loss, and from fear. In Onward’s story, that leads to a loss of self. No one takes risks – they don’t need to – and conformity forces us to bottle our true selves lest someone find them disruptive.

The greater heart comes from two brothers adventuring toward a common fantasy: To spend a day, even mere minutes, with a lost loved one. Onward is a world with trolls, elves, and fairies, yet is unchanged in searching for true feelings; it doesn’t matter who or what you are because experiencing loss, then coping, is universal.

Onward’s spunk comes from watching these brothers break from their shells

Belief becomes the central motif. Magic in Onward cannot work unless the user believes it can. At times, magic is treated as a metaphor. Stopped by an unending chasm, brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot must rely on one another. On one side, Barley needs to believe Ian can cast an invisible bridge, and Ian needs to believe his brother won’t let him fall fall. Still, there’s a rope between them, just in case, and in letting that go, the passive Ian is finally on his own.

Typical modern animation techniques fill other story pockets. The Lightfoot’s mother inadvertently ends up on this adventure, shedding her own suburban domesticity. A manager of a gimmicky chain restaurant finds herself again too, realizing her purpose is more than stressing about food temperatures. Inviting not only the past but the ability to fantasize changes not only this family, but the world. Expressing everything Onward’s characters want to be benefits them as much as the whole. Through their actions, an unknown school curse finally meets its end, only because they embraced something other than a comfortable life.

There’s little remarkable or unexpected in Onward’s action. It’s vibrant and beautiful as any of Pixar’s well-funded films are. Onward’s spunk comes from watching these brothers break from their shells, learning to understand each others differences, much as using their individuality to restore their father. In its final, tender moments, it’s worth it. And, composed as to avoid cliché. Disney so often puts parents through a meat grinder, but in Onward, the softer touch creates an emotional reconciliation.


Following Toy Story 4, Pixar again renders the source animation at full 4K. The evident sharpness leaves no question. Onward’s detailed textures suffer zero loss in transferring to disc. Stubble on Barley’s face, stitches in Colt’s police uniform, the overall environment; it all holds to the same standard. Other than the slightest, smallest, almost imperceptible noise, nothing impedes the clarity on display.

A gorgeous balance between light and dark emboldens the HDR pass. Scenes in an underground tunnel envelop characters in pure black. Near an expressway as the kids pull off into town and night, the differing elements seamlessly blend. Highlights lack the brightest punch, yet utilize the tech to reach greater intensity than the companion Blu-ray. That’s not dismissing some great flourishes, particularly with magic spells. A few fireworks punch up the sizzle factor.

Equally delightful, color blossoms. Elven turquoise skin, sensational greenery, and brilliant primaries leave few hues left untouched. In a seedier part of town, yellows and greens wash over scenery. Rather than ghastly, it’s pure and glowing as the two colors meet. Intent isn’t lost. Instead, the palette succeeds thanks to the deep color.


Oh Disney. Ever more disappointing Disney. While purists rightfully debate Paramount’s choice to clip War of the Worlds low-end, in comes Onward where there’s no debate. Disney destroyed the bass for this release. There’s hardly anything to note, not from magic, not from thunder, not from a rock collapse, not from a giant concrete dragon stomping around. Aside from a few notes in the score, Onward’s LFE is effectively voided.

Typically with Disney, positional effects perk things up. Yet, this Atmos track fails here too. For animation, this is a real oddity. Action on an expressway pans cars okay. During the final battle, motion comes through the action, including light height activity as flight comes into the mix. Overall though, inexcusably thin for a new release.


The UHD itself contains nothing. Pop in the Blu-ray for a commentary from director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae. This project was personal for Scanlon (a topic featured in the nine-minute Quest for Story featurette too) making this an interesting chat. Another 10-minute feature details the various characters and bit parts.

A third disc in the set hosts more, beginning with four short featurettes looking at music, the end sequence, magic, and the cast/crew discussing their feelings on fantasy. Six deleted scenes run almost a half hour including an intro from Scanlon. While everything is slickly produced, depth is not the focus here.

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Onward uses magic as a basis for this clever fable about technology, family, and loss that works through to the final chapter.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 48 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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