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Tear Jerker / Onward

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The film may be a little more comedic than the average Pixar film, but it's still a Pixar film. One must cry at least once.
  • Barley accidentally ruining his father's sweater. While it's just a tear and Ian is able to fix it, it subtly hints at a bond torn, if not by pride.
  • Ian backing out on inviting his classmates to his birthday party after Barley embarrasses him at school. The tragic part is the other kids didn't even seem to mind Barley that much and were genuinely interested in going to the party, but Ian's own insecurities ruined it for him.
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  • As evidenced by crossing out the items on his list, Ian giving up on any chances of being a "new" him, including being like his father.
  • Ian listening to a recording his dad had made. It's his forlorn expression when it ends that sells it.
    Mr. Lightfoot (trailer only): Long ago, the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous. There was magic. But it wasn't easy to master, so the world found a simpler way to get by. But I hope there's a little magic left... in you.
    • Even sadder is when he tries to make a conversation out of the one tape-recording he had of his dad, and his sadness deepens when he gets overly excited and the tape comes to a close.
    • Just the fact that the tape recording isn't even a message, let alone a posthumous one Wilden left for Ian, like one would expect. It's just audio of Wilden trying to get the recorder to work and talking to Laurel in the background. But Ian wants to know about his father so badly that he's willing to listen to meaningless audio of him just to hear his voice.
  • Laurel tells Ian that when Wilden got sick, he tried so hard to get better in order to see him. Later she says that he also developed strange interests when he got sick, meaning that Wilden was desperately trying to find any way to live for his wife and children.
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  • The boys' first interaction with Wilden's legs is both this and Heartwarming. Because Wilden has no eyes or ears, his legs just blindly stumble around the room. Barley taps him on the foot, and though Wilden's legs pull away nervously at first, they stop when Barley taps out the first five beats of "Shave and a Haircut." Realizing that it’s Barley, Wilden taps out the last two notes, and the two play it out again. Then, as if he’s realizing Ian must be nearby, Wilden's legs start reaching out carefully until they find Ian's foot. Then Wilden just... presses his foot against it. Remember that Ian wasn't even born when his father got sick, and Wilden fought so hard to stay alive so he could actually meet him. Just in the simple interaction, you can feel the love and relief of a father finally meeting the son he never got to see.
  • To fool two police officers, Barley and Ian use the Disguise Spell to disguise themselves as Colt. When one of them refers to Barley as a screwup, Ian disagrees- and one of his illusory limbs disappears. Why? The Disguise Spell only works if the caster is telling the truth... which means Ian was lying. Barley’s understandably hurt to find out his little brother, like everyone else in town, sees him as a failure.
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    • During the drive, Barley doesn't speak one word to Ian as the latter tries to apologize for indirectly calling him a screwup. Whenever Ian tries to speak, Barley just drowns him out with loud music. After spending a good deal of movie acting energetic, there's something upsetting about him sitting there quietly seething.
  • Barley being on the verge of tears when he sees Ian precariously walking across the bottomless pit without the safety rope. On one hand, it can be interpreted as him being proud of Ian for mastering the Invisible Bridge spell, but on the other hand, it can also be interpreted as him being scared of losing his brother before his eyes, all while he's powerless to save him.
    • Then there's his reaction after Ian almost falls but manages to climb up to the other side after turning back and discovering Barley has the safety rope which isn't tied around him anymore: he just falls to his knees in relief.
  • Barley has to sacrifice his beloved van to stop the cops. Ian had a whole list of things planned out to do with Wilden, but Barley's only wish was to show his dad the van he put together from scraps. While it may not seem like a big deal, this is essentially Barley giving up the one and only thing he'd ever wanted to share with his dad, just so he could see him again. He didn't blame Ian for not being able to use lightning magic, or force anything on Ian. He sacrificed everything he could to help instead, and that realization turned a small "oh dang" to some real manly tears...
    • Let's not forget the subtle symbolism that really sells the moment, of Guinevere's tire popping and making galloping sounds, the parking tickets streaming out of the windows like wings just before she makes her final jump, and the way the camera zooms in to the painted winged horse on her side and with that final brave whinny as she flies through the air, all set to the dramatic chorus of "Rise to Valhalla". This wasn't just a van crashing: for all intents and purposes, it's Barley's noble steed going out in a blaze of glory and ascending to a warrior's paradise.
  • Barley reveals to Ian that he never got to say goodbye to his father because the sight of Wilden hooked to life support scared him from going in. And Barley's shame over this incident led to him deciding to never be afraid of anything else again... at three years old.
    • Barley only has four memories of his father, and three of them are vague details like how he used to play drums on his feet. The fourth and final memory is the only one of an event - and it wasn't even happy.
    • Just the way that Barley hangs his head and takes his hat off, one of the few times in the film he's soft-spoken. You can tell that Barley isn't just sad that he didn't say goodbye to Wilden, he's guilt-ridden.
    • It's also a callback to when his mom is aggravated that her oldest son is not afraid of anything. But she never knew why.
  • Ian laying into Barley after their adventure takes them back to their school, meaning they went in a huge circle and that the entire adventure was a waste of time. He even calls Barley a screwup for it, much to Barley’s sadness.
    • Barley desperately looking for some clue that the Phoenix Stone is nearby, just to prove to Ian that he's not a screwup, even if it meant that he was going to get in trouble again.
    • It's also ironically sad, as before Barley was furious about being called a screwup and now he was heartbroken because of his brother calling him a screwup. But despite the heat of the moment, and the confusion, Ian didn't realise that they were where they needed to be, because the gem was at the same fountian that Barley was trying to save at the beginning of the film.
  • After all they go through, Ian never even gets to meet his father, only going by Barley’s reassurance that Wilden expressed his pride in how both of them turned out.
    • The reason why Ian was willing to make such a sacrifice for Barley: Ian realizes that even though he never got to meet his father, he always had Barley to fill in his shoes. He just wants to give Barley the chance to properly tell Wilden goodbye.
    • Wilden's return is only shown through Ian's eyes: he's far away, not even facing him, and we don't hear anything he tells Barley. It really just drives in how unfair it is that he's right there, and neither Ian nor the audience gets the full family reunion the boys worked so hard for.
    • In their final moments together, Wilden pulls Barley in for one last father-son hug... and then he fades away as the sun sets. Barley is left standing there for a moment, wiping tears from his eyes.

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