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Western Animation / Onward

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Barley: We are going on a grand and glorious quest!
Ian: It's not a quest. It's just a really fast and strange errand.
Barley: It's totally a quest.

Onward is the twenty-second CGI animated feature made by Pixar, directed by Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) and released on March 6, 2020. It is the very first Pixar film to have no involvement whatsoever from company founder John Lasseter.

Set in a world where mythological creatures like elves and dragons evolved into modern suburbia, the film tells the story of elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, respectively), who embark on a quest in search of magic that they hope will allow them to spend one day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him. The film also stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as their mother Laurel, plus Octavia Spencer as Corey.

Due to being released at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, the film had a truncated run in theaters and was released digitally just two weeks after its theatrical release concluded and on Disney+ just two weeks after that.

The film also featured the first Disney-produced Simpsons short played before the feature film, titled Playdate With Destiny. It too was released on Disney+.

Previews: Teaser, Trailer 1, Trailer 2.

Onward contains examples of:

  • Accidental Unfortunate Gesture: When Ian and Barley are being chased by angry bikers, their dad's fake top half flops out of the window and makes a fist-shaking gesture, further antagonizing the bikers.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • Once again, Chris Pratt plays a character who hesitated to say goodbye to a parent as they died from a terminal illness.
  • Advancing Wall of Doom: When Wilden inadvertently triggers a booby trap in the cave, the gelatinous cube pursues him, along with Ian and Barley.
  • Aerith and Bob: Of all the fantastical names in the film (Barley, Wilden, Specter, the Manticore, etc.), Iannote , Laurel, and maybe Colt are the only two that sound normal. Guinevere is also realistic, but is a van, not a character.
  • Alien Sky: The world the movie takes place in has a sky with two moons.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Blazey, the small pet dragon, acts exactly like a dog, barking, panting and licking Ian's face.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: The biker pixies may be small and look whimsical, but they are as fierce and dangerous as any biker gang.
  • The Alleged Car: Barley's van, Guinevere, does not appear to be in good shape. The shifter knob has been replaced with a screwdriver, the fuel gauge is permanently stuck on "Full", both fenders are held on with zip ties, it has no turn indicators, the AC has only one hurricane-like setting, and the ignition only works if you find its sweet spot.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Subverted. Our initial view of Ian at school is him being treated as a social doormat. However, Ian’s science classmates actually do know him and want to go to his party even after Barley drives up. It’s Ian’s own social anxiety that causes him to bail out and run away.
  • All Trolls Are Different: Two trolls appear in the teaser. They are bulky giants with colorful skin and large, warty noses, acting completely civilized.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The Japanese dub uses Sukima Switch’s "Zenryoku Shounen" ("Almighty Boy") as the credits theme, which is interestingly a rerelease of a song they wrote in 2005 rather than an original song written for the movie.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: A number of human-like creatures with unusual skin colors are featured. The named characters, Ian, Barley, and Laurel, are blue-skinned elves, and a green goblin and purple and green trolls also appear briefly.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: The satyrs and centaurs of this world don't wear pants even in modern society but are lacking any visible genitalia. Particularly noticeable with Colt Bronco who has the most screen time and is shown from a variety of angles but still lacks any visible "packaging".
  • Arc Words: "You've got to make use of what you have."
  • Armor-Piercing Question: A rare positive version, following Ian successfully traversing a bottomless cavern via the Trust Bridge spell, only to learn he was bereft of his safety rope...
    Ian: I needed that rope!
    Barley: Oh, but did you?
  • Artistic License – Biology: While possibly downplayed because the movie is dealing with fantasy creatures, suddenly trying to use a part of one's body that had been neglected for years (i.e. wings) is not going to result in fluid, agile, adept use within hours as shown with the Manticore and the pixies.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Tabletop-gaming nerd Barley winds up on a genuine quest with his magic-wielding brother, and puts his genre-savviness to excellent use.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The reason magic was replaced by technology was that, while capable of wonderful feats, magic is very hard to perform, and only a few people can use it at all.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • The teaser trailer begins with a series of shots that suggest a High Fantasy setting. And then a modern passenger jet flies by.
    • As they are about to enter the Manticore's tavern, Barley talks about how brave adventurers would come to gather inside. They open to find... a children's' birthday party.
    • Corey leads Laurel to the place where her sword Cursecrusher is imprisoned — an ordinary pawn shop.
  • Bathtub Mermaid: In the opening montage, a mermaid is seen chilling in a kiddie pool.
  • Bat Scare: Done with winged unicorns in the cavern entrance.
  • BFS: Corey used to own one, but sold it to a pawn shop a few years back; fortunately the pawn shop still had it, so she was able to get it back. It's big enough for Corey to use it as a longsword, and almost as big as Laurel's entire body.
  • Big Fun: Barley, who is quite chunky to go with being the upbeat, energetic, physically affectionate and apparently fearless one of the Lightfoot brothers.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: The Manticore has no trouble understanding her goblin cook:
    Manticore: You're late, Adolphus.
    Adolphus: [unintelligible]
    Manticore: I understand there's traffic. You need to plan for that.
    Adolphus: [unintelligible]
    Manticore: Well, maybe your mother should get her own car!
  • Bittersweet Ending: The brothers complete the visitation spell with just a few minutes left before the sun sets. However, Ian realizes his brother has been the "father he never had" in his life and gives up his chance to talk with Wilden, instead heading off to help destroy the Curse Dragon. This allows Barley to meet his father, talk with him and gain closure for missing his opportunity to say goodbye when his father was on his deathbed.
  • Book Ends: The movie begins and ends with a character (Wilden and Ian respectfully) talking about the world and magic's place within it.
  • Boring, but Practical: Even though Magic exists in this world, Technology can be used by anybody, provided much more convenient ways of doing things, and inventions like lightbulbs made spells to light fires obsolete. As a result, the use of Magic faded over the years while Technology became used by the majority of the population.
  • Bowdlerise: The Russian dub of the movie removes any mentions or hints of Specter's homosexuality.
  • Brand X:
    • There's an ersatz Mountain Dew soda brand called "Mountain Doom". Doubles as a reference to Mount Doom from The Lord of the Rings.
    • There's also Aurora dish soap, a reference to Dawn dish soap.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Happens to Barley and Ian after their quest takes them back to Ian's high school. Ian blames Barley for taking him on a fruitless quest when he should have been spending more time with his Dad and splits. He gets together back with Barley after realizing what Barley means to him.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Because magic in this world has a verbal component that must be spoken to cast a spell, any attack spell used by a wizard takes on this effect.
  • Cat Like Dragons: Inverted by Blazey, who acts like a dog instead.
  • Caught on Tape: Officer Colt chastises Barley saying anytime the city tries to "tear down an old piece of rubble", he has to come down and deal with him. Barley denies knowing anything about it, but is immediately presented with a video showing that he's tied himself to an ancient fountain to try to prevent it from being destroyed.
  • Celestial Deadline: Played With. The spell to bring back Wilden ends at sunset of the following day. However, as the spell was accidentally (but conveniently) cast at sunset the day before, it shifts the deadline into a familiar twenty-hour Race Against the Clock. Although the setting sun is used to mark the final minutes, a good portion of the film uses the countdown timer on Ian's watch to show the deadline approaching.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: Ian's phone is destroyed during the botched resurrection spell, and Barley either doesn’t have one or left it behind in the rush to get out of the house to find the Phoenix Gem. This leaves Laurel and Corey no way to contact them and warn them about the curse.
  • Character Narrator: The beginning of the film has Wilden's voice reading his letter to Ian and Barley saying how he wishes that some magic still lives within the two of them. This is also the case for the ending, wherein it's Ian who sums up how things are different now.
  • Chekhov's Gag:
    • The A/C in Barley's van is briefly shown to be excessively powerful as a joke. During the scuffle with the pixie bikers, Ian uses it to force them out of the van.
    • Barley seems to be afraid about a gelatinous cube he encounters in his tabletop game. The cube turns out to exist for real and is one of the deadliest booby traps of the cave.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • At the beginning of the movie, Officer Colt shows Laurel a video of Barley tying himself to a historical fountain in town, trying to prevent it from being demolished by a construction crew. The fountain turns out to have been the Phoenix Gem's hiding spot all along.
    • After Barley sacrifices Guinevere by rigging her to drive into the side of a mountain and it gets crushed by boulders, he picks up the car's orange reflector (which happens to look similar to the Phoenix Gem) and stores it in his pocket. Later, he uses it to distract the giant dragon by tossing it into a bush and fooling the beast into thinking it's the Gem.
    • While stopping at a gas station, the boys buy some Cheeto-like snacks for the road. When they're later in an underground tunnel with a running stream, Ian uses an enlargement spell to blow one up in size so they can use it as a makeshift boat down the water.
    • Early on, Ian gets a splinter in his hand from the magical staff. During the final battle, Ian loses the staff when it's knocked from his hands out into the sea. Ian remembers the splinter still in his hand and that it has "magic in every fiber", so he uses the magic embedded in the splinter and a growth spell to form a replacement Magic Staff.
    • Laurel's very first appearance on-screen has her exercising along to a workout video, quickly stepping side to side, holding a dumbbell in both hands, and declaring herself a fearless warrior as a mantra. She later uses the same footwork to avoid damage while fighting the curse dragon, holds a sword in the same position she held the dumbbell, and repeats her mantra as she stabs the beast in the heart.
  • Chekhov's Skill: One of the only memories Barley has of his father is that he used to play drums on his feet as a child. When the spell to bring Wilden back doesn't work the first time, it's only his legs that get summoned. Without eyes and ears, he cannot see what's going on around him. So, Barley drums on his feet to communicate that he's with his sons.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: There is a spell to make an invisible platform to walk across the air, but it only works as long as the caster believes it does with every step. This is a problem for Ian and his unconfident nature at first.
  • Concentration-Bound Magic: The growth spell requires all the focus one can muster on the object one wants to grow. If you can't focus, you shrink something — or someone in Barley's case.
  • Cover Innocent Eyes and Ears: When the Manticore rips off the mascot costume's head, a little kid looks on with amazement before having their eyes covered by their parents.
  • Curse Cut Short: On more than one occasion, a character reacts to an unpleasant surprise with "Son of a—!"
  • Cutting the Knot: While Laurel tries to reason with Grecklin, Corey suddenly stings her in the neck, rendering her temporarily paralyzed.
  • Dangerous 16th Birthday: The boys' father left them his Magic Staff with instructions not to give it to them until the youngest was 16.
  • Defeat Equals Explosion: The curse dragon explodes after Ian impales its core with Corey's sword.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: While most of the population find magic to be extremely difficult to practice, those with natural magical talents, with enough practice, can make awesome things.
  • Dinky Drivers: The biker pixies ride full-size motorcycles. The films shows scenes of many pixies cooperating to ride, steer, shift gears, etc.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Ian and Barley's dad died from an illness that left him bedridden and hooked up to tubes at the end of his life, but what it was is never identified.
  • Disneyfication: In-universe, Corey has essentially done this to herself, reducing the mighty manticore adventurer to a goofy cartoon mascot and her quest-giving tavern to a themed family restaurant for children's birthday parties. At the end of the movie, she remodels it to be a more serious-seeming restaurant and regales visitors with tales of the old days — while still entertaining children.
  • Drowning Pit: Towards the end of the Path of Peril, Ian and Barley find themselves locked in a room that's filling with water.
  • Durable Deathtrap: Lampshaded by Ian who notes that any traps inside the passageway to the Phoenix Gem would have deteriorated centuries ago. He is proven wrong.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!:
    • Corey when telling Laurel about where Ian and Barley are:
      Corey: Oh, they went on a quest. But don't worry: I told them about the map, I told them about the gem, I told them about the curse- AH! I forgot to tell them about the curse!
    • A growth spell to make a gas can bigger so the boys could get more fuel backfires, shrinking Barley instead.
      Barley: [high-pitched voice] It worked! The can is huge! And the van is huge! And you're... Oh, no!
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The main plot of the movie takes place over two days.
  • The Fair Folk: At one point the brothers encounter a motorcycle gang made up of small sprites who chase the boys around.
  • Fantastic Fauna Counterpart: Blazey, the Lightfoots' pet dragon, acts just like a dog. Unicorns act like raccoons, feeding from the Lightfoots' trash and hissing at Ian when he chases them away. Griffins are also a common source of meat, similar to real-world chickens, as “nuggets” are a dish made from them. If you read the Kids menu of the tavern, kraken legs are another dish eaten there.
  • Fantastic Vermin: Unicorns, of all things, are garbage-eating, hissing pests in the vein of raccoons.
  • Fat and Skinny: The protagonists are two brothers, the burly Barley and the slim Ian.
  • Fauns and Satyrs: In the trailer, there's a female faun painting a house wall, using her goat legs to leap and reach the high spots. In the movie proper, fauns are among the most common background extras, and a faun police officer named Gore gets a few lines.
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: In the beginning of the movie, a party appeared retrieving a goblet and fighting a dragon. The party consists of an elven knight (fighter), a faun rogue (thief), and a cyclops wizard (mage).
  • Forgot About His Powers: Due to their dependence on technology, many of this world's residents are unaware of their species' basic abilities, or don't consider them useful enough, so they use them rarely and just in a limited manner. The biker pixies treated their wings as a purely ornamental feature until they were in a life-or-death situation and, until the very end, Colt would rather use a car than galloping.
  • Four Is Death: Barley's fourth memory of his dad is the day the former had to say goodbye, but was too afraid of seeing the latter on life support.
  • Friend-or-Idol Decision: Barley crashes his beloved van Guinevere into a cliff to cause a rockslide and block the road from the police.
  • The Freelance Shame Squad: Subverted. When Ian is inviting some of his classmates to his birthday party, Barley suddenly arrives to pick him up and starts embarrassing him with his behavior. The other kids are bemused, but don't really mind and still want to come to Ian's party. It's Ian's insecurities over the incident that ultimately cause him to back out of inviting them.
  • Gave Up Too Soon: Ian gives up on finding the gem when the brothers are seemingly led back to Ian's high school, though Barley desperately tries to see any connection and sees the historical fountain nearby. At the top of the fountain is a hole to fit the piece they found following the ravens to uncover the hidden location of the last gem.
  • Glamour Failure: Because the disguise spell presents a lie to the outside world, it only works if the spellcaster tells the truth. Ian and Barley use it to disguise themselves as Officer Bronco, but Ian keeps flubbing his answers and parts of him keep changing back to normal.
  • Gracefully Demoted: Ian and Laurel let Barley try to cast the visitation spell because he seems the most likely magic user due to his obsessive knowledge of fantasy RPGs. However, numerous failed attempts reveal that this isn't so. When Ian accidentally casts the spell, Barley has no resentment and even expresses his delight that Ian can do magic.
    Barley: A person can only do magic if they have the gift. And my little brother has the magic gift!
  • Greater Need Than Mine: In the end, Ian chooses to hold off the dragon so Barley will be the one who gets to speak with their dad. As Ian has realized, while he never got to meet their dad, he at least had Barley as a Parental Substitute. Barley, on the other hand, needs to properly say goodbye to their father so he'll finally get closure and be able to move past his childhood trauma.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: A rare nonviolent example: Ian and Barley try to resurrect their father, but only succeed in bringing his legs back to life.
  • Heart Drive: The curse dragon is formed around a core of energy that has to be stabbed with a curse-breaking weapon to destroy it.
  • Hiss Before Fleeing:
    • In the first trailer, when Ian chases away the unicorns from the garbage can, one of them lets out a hiss before running away.
    • In the film, the boys spook a trio of Unicorns in a cave, who respond to the intruders this way.
  • Hospital Visit Hesitation: In one scene, Barley talks about one of the few memories he has of his and Ian's father, Wilden, who died of a terminal illness. Barley mentions that as a kid, he tried to visit his dad in the hospital to say goodbye to him, but was too afraid to do so because of all the machines that Wilden was hooked up to. Unlike some of the other memories Barley has of his father, this is shown to be one that he's far more reluctant to talk about.
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Flashbacks show unicorns were once majestic creatures that soared through the skies. Now they're little better than raccoons with ratty wings and more donkey-like proportions.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Barley tells Ian that in order to cast the enlargement spell, he has to be absolutely focused... and proceeds to heavily distract him with all his advice.
  • I Call It "Vera": "Guinevere", Barley's van.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat:
    • Barley assumes that he's the best one to cast the visitation spell because of his obsessive knowledge of fantasy RPGs, but numerous failed attempts reveal that he is no magic user. Subverted because we learn that, in this world, only some creatures are born with the "gift" of using magic, and simply knowing the mechanics of how to cast a spell isn't enough. It turns out that Barley's claim that "Quests of Yore" is based on actual historical magic is accurate, seeing how well he is able to mentor Ian in spell-casting from simple spells up to the complex Arcane Lightning. By the end of the movie, the audience has no doubt that if Barley also had the gift, he would have been a very effective magic-user.
    • Laurel gained enough endurance and fighting skills from her "Warrior Z90" cardio exercises to fight a dragon.
  • Improvised Golems: The Guardian Curse on the Phoenix Gem assembles a mighty beast from whatever junk happens to be lying around. Since it's right in front of a high school that has a dragon for its mascot, the curse forms a dragon out of cars, desks, chairs, soda machines, and pieces of the building, with its face being that of the school's cartoonish dragon mascot, and its bestial roar contains traces of the end-of-class bell.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Barley distracts Ian while Ian is trying to grow their gas can, causing him to mess up the spell and accidentally shrink Barley instead.
  • It Only Works Once: The visitation spell that Ian and Barley use to bring back Wilden can only bring someone back for one day and then never again. When it goes wrong, they have to race to find another phoenix gem and complete the process before Wilden vanishes for good at sunset.
  • It Was with You All Along:
    • The brothers emerge from the final tunnel to find the trail has led them right back to their own neighborhood, in front of their high school. The Phoenix Gem was hidden in their hometown all along! In a location Barley knew well! (They did need a tablet from the Path of Peril to activate it, though.)
    • At a low point in their quest where it's looking like their goal is hopeless, Ian looks at the list of what he wanted to do with his Father in despair. Except, he begins to realize that he actually achieved everything on the list with Barley and realizes he had been a father to him all along!
  • The Key Is Behind the Lock:
    • The lever to lower the drawbridge across the bottomless chasm is on the other side of the chasm.
    • When Ian and Barley are fleeing from the biker pixies, they realize they have left the car keys inside Guinevere.
  • Kirk's Rock: The rock formation in the prairie looks familiar.
  • Kraken and Leviathan: If you read the kids menu of the Manticore’s Tavern, you’ll notice “kraken legs” are an option.
  • Large Ham: Barley spends a great deal of the film like this, melodramatically talking about a "grand and glorious quest" he and his brother are going on.
  • Left-Justified Fantasy Map: One of them is seen hanging on the restaurant's "Wall of Adventure!" in the second trailer alongside various other adventuring gear.
  • Lost in Imitation: An unusual example. The Gelatinous Cube is referred to, and shown eventually, as glowing green. In the actual text of Dungeons & Dragons, Gelatinous Cubes are clear (for camouflage), but illustrations usually depict them as greenish so they show up better on the page.
  • Lost in Translation: In the Norwegian dub, the reveal that Officer Specter is a lesbian is lost because the Norwegian word for one's romantic partner is gender neutral ("kjæreste", literally translating to "the dearest"), so the Norwegian audience would have no idea that she has a girlfriend.
  • MacGuffin Guardian: The phoenix gem is guarded by a curse which creates a great beast out of whatever material happens to be nearby.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Barley describes a few of the principles of spellcasting to Ian while teaching him specific ones. For starters, all spells need to be spoken "from the heart's fire", i.e. with stalwart conviction. Certain spells require total focus on the target as they're being cast, others need consistent faith that they're working or rare spell components like the Phoenix gem. Some spells depend on a combination of these things. Spells like a glamour have an ironic restriction; since it's a magical deception, casters need to maintain total honesty while using them, otherwise they'll begin to fail. Spells like the levitation spell have a limited range within which they work, so objects that are too far away are unaffected.
  • Magic Feather: See under Armor-Piercing Question.
  • Magic Staff: The boys inherit one from their father to allow them to cast a visitation spell.
  • Magic Versus Science: A downplayed example in that both magic and technology exist in this world and there is no visible conflict between them. Magic is powerful and can do things technology can't, but it is difficult to master and can only be used by a gifted few. Technology, however, provides many of the same benefits, can be used by anyone, and quickly supplants magic in the world.
  • Mama Bear: Laurel is your typical suburban mom... until her sons are in danger, then she grabs a sword bigger than she is and goes after a dragon on her own.
  • Mature Younger Sibling: Ian is more level-headed, timid, and less enthusiastic about going into dangerous situations than his older brother Barley, who jumps right into trouble without thinking things through. This is actually the source of some conflict between them, as Ian considers Barley a Disappointing Older Sibling.
  • Motorcycle Dominoes: Wilden accidentally knocks down the biker pixies' bikes, sending them on the warpath.
  • Mourning an Object: Barley sacrifices his precious van, Guinevere, so that he and his brother can escape from the police. After it crashes into a stone and is covered in rubble, he gives it a solemn salute.
  • Mundane Solution: During part of the journey, the brothers run into a booby-trapped hall where you have to solve a puzzle to shut down the arrow booby traps. Unfortunately, between the gelatinous cube creeping up behind them and the closing door on the other end of the hallway, Ian and Barley don't have time to figure it out, so they decide to just grab some shields and use them to block the arrows as they run towards the exit.
  • Mundane Utility: Although magic was used by adventurers on quests to defend against monsters, magic was also used to help those in need by fulfilling mundane tasks like lighting fires for cooking or for lighting rooms. Eventually, technology made those tasks so much easier for the general populace to do, and magic began to fade away.
  • My Car Hates Me: Downplayed. Barley makes it clear that he's built Guinevere by himself and we see that even he has trouble getting the van started earlier in the movie. So it comes as no surprise when Ian learns that Guinevere's ignition only works if you turn the key just right, while a horde of very angry Pixie bikers bear down on the two brothers.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Triple Dent Gum, first seen in Inside Out, is sold at the gas station Ian and Barley visit.
    • A couple references to another Pixar movie about magic and fantasy appear in the Manticore's Tavern. One particular location on the map in the tavern is "The Brave Wilderness". Also, the "Tome of Truth" on the wall is adorned with the insignia of the Dunbroch clan.
    • Also in the tavern, a figurine of Pepita from Coco can be seen in one shot.
  • Nature Hero: Barley fights to keep various historical landmarks from being demolished.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Barley admits to Ian that he actually has four memories of their father, but the fourth isn't his favorite. When he was still little, he visited his father in the hospital to say goodbye, but the sight of Wilden hooked to life support scared him from going inside the room. After finishing his story, he quickly clears his throat as they approach the end of the tunnel, obviously trying not to cry in front of his brother. He even states that it was because of this incident that he decided to never be afraid of anything again. At the climax of the film, Ian tells Barley he should be the one to see their dad so he could properly say goodbye to him and get closure over his death.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Mildly. The scene of Barley picking up Ian to go on a quest is not in the film. The scene of Ian coming home only to be jumped on by his pet dragon does happen, but in the film, he's coming down the stairs before school, not returning home.
  • No Antagonist: The main conflict is the brothers’ journey to find the Phoenix Gem in order to complete the resurrection spell needed to bring back their father. The closest thing to villains are the Pixie Bikers, the artificial dragon made by the curse that guards the Phoenix Gem, and the sleazy pawn-shop owner Grecklin.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: A variation — the brothers are only able to bring their father half back to life... the bottom half. To disguise this, they're seen stuffing a jacket and hat and balancing it atop the disembodied legs to simulate an upper body.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Barley gets one when he realizes that the Manticore is about to burn down her tavern.
    • Ian when he realizes that they're being pursued by the police during their escape to the mountains.
    • Ian and Barley panic the moment their father ends up triggering a booby trap while searching for the Phoenix Gem.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different:
    • In the first trailer, one female centaur jogs by the house of a troll, saying hi to him.
    • Colt Bronco, Laurel's boyfriend, is a police officer and a centaur.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Lightfoots have a small pet dragon named Blazey that acts like a dog. A brief scene in the prologue shows a party of adventurers battling a huge and aggressive dragon, suggesting that they were selectively bred over the centuries to be pets and used to be larger and fiercer. A dragon-shaped Golem made up of buildings and objects is brought to life by a curse.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The two main characters, their mother, and their Disappeared Dad are all elves with both blue hair and skin and the traditional Pointy Ears. Ian is shown to have innate magical talent, which it turns out his and Barley's father Wilden shared. In addition, both Wilden and another elf briefly seen near the beginning have facial hair, an unusual trait among elves.
  • Our Gnomes Are Weirder: In the trailer, one gnome stays put like an ordinary garden decoration until another gnome tells him to get back to mowing the lawn.
  • Our Griffins Are Different: They’re used as food, like “griffin nuggets”.
  • Our Manticores Are Spinier: The Manticore (a.k.a. Corey) is anthropomorphized, bipedal and fully-dressed, unlike the unicorns, dragons and implied griffins and krakens. Her face is fully feline rather than human-like.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Mermaids appear in the trailer as conventionally attractive human-like women with long, bright, scaly fishtails, with a group of them swimming in a lake, and one chilling in an inflatable pool in the suburbs.
  • Perfect Disguise, Terrible Acting: Ian at one point uses a disguise spell to imitate the chief of police, but almost gives himself away through a combination of stuttering, wishy-washy demeanor, and the fact that the spell weakens every time he tells a lie.
  • Playing Catch with the Old Man: Ian's list of things he wants to do along with Wilden includes "play catch". He ends up doing it as part of his magic practice with Barley.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Ian collapses after destroying the curse dragon.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: Laurel before taking on the curse dragon: "I am a mighty warrior!"
  • Production Foreshadowing: There's a Dorothea Williams record on a shelf in the Lightfoot house.
  • Protest by Obstruction: When Officer Bronco drops by to talk about Barley's recent round of activism, he shows a clip on his phone of Barley chained to the ancient fountain protesting its destruction. A city worker with some bolt cutters quickly ends his rant.
  • Race Against the Clock: The boys have 24 hours after conjuring their father's legs to get the rest of him manifested.
  • Raiders of the Lost Parody: Ian and Barley have to outrun a giant gelatinous cube, evade deadly traps, and then pull their father's lower body through a closing door.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ian gives one to Barley after they discover that after following Barley's interpretation of the water symbol on the stone, the long journey from Raven's Point apparently took them right back to New Mushroomton. Ian lays into Barley for being a screw-up and ruining his one chance to meet his father.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ian and Barley have this sort of relationship. Ian is the Blue, being more soft-spoken and nervous, while Barley is the Red, being far more outgoing and fearless. Ironically, Ian wears a red shirt while Barley has a blue vest.
  • Resized Vocals: Ian accidentally shrinks Barley with a spell, which gives him a helium-pitched voice.
  • Retired Badass: The Manticore used to be a fearsome, powerful warrior, often assisting warriors in their journeys, until she decided to modernize her tavern and made it into a family restaurant, forgetting about adventuring as a whole.
  • Road Trip Plot: The boys, along with the bottom half of their father, have to go on a road trip to try to restore him whole.
  • Saying Too Much: The pawn store owner, Grecklin, is willing to sell the Curse Crusher sword for just 10. But, after Corey starts extolling how it's "forged of the rarest metals, the only sword of its kind in all the land", Grecklin naturally jacks the price to 10,000, which Corey and Laurel can't afford. Corey ends up paralyzing Grecklin with her scorpion tail and the two take off with the sword for just 10 (plus a little something extra for the trouble).
  • Science Destroys Magic: A downplayed version. Science and Magic appear to happily co-exist in this world, it's just that due to the difficulty learning magic, people stopped using it as more convenient technology was invented to do the same things. It didn't help that not everyone had the "gift" of being able to do magic in the first place.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: A "curse" is sealed in the hidden location of the Phoenix Gem, which is a curse that borrows nearby structures to become a dragon of sorts.
  • Sell What You Love: Corey, the manticore, sold her enchanted sword, the Curse Crusher, to a pawn shop owner several years before the start of the film when she ran into some "tax trouble". Prior to selling it, she loved the sword so much, she had it tattooed on her arm.
  • Shag Wagon: Guinevere, Barley's old van with a custom paint job that becomes his and Ian's "steed" on their quest. At the end, he replaces it with Guinevere II after the first one is destroyed.
  • Shave And A Haircut: Barley used to drum it on his dad's feet, blowing two raspberries for the "Two Bits" part.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Barley's tabletop game is heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, a couple of artifacts and creatures from D&D are featured in the film, and Wizards of the Coast receives thanks in the end credits. Twice.
    • Many to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Barley keeps a road sign in Guinevere that says "You shall not pass" and the restaurant Ian goes to in the beginning is called Burger Shire, and it's now serving second breakfast.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Ian keeps many, many photographs of his father, Wilden, on a board above his desk. He also has a cassette tape labeled "DAD", which is a audio recording of Wilden trying to get the cassette recorder working while talking to Laurel standing further back from the microphone.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: As Laurel puts it:
    Laurel: One of them is afraid of everything, and the other isn't afraid of anything!
  • So Proud of You: By the end of the film Laurel has expressed this toward Ian for coming out of his shell and Wilden says this about Ian to Barley and that he also realizes Barley had a big influence on Ian turning out so well.
  • Spotting the Thread: Ian and Barley manage to fool officers Specter and Gore in to thinking they are Colt Bronco, but no sooner are they gone or Specter notices their footprints which suddenly shift from hoofs to shoeprints. She thus realizes the deception, which is confirmed when she radios the station to ask about Bronco's whereabouts.
  • Title Drop: Once Ian gets the van started so they can escape the biker pixies, Barley says "Put it in 'O' for 'Onward'" and it's then revealed that he's actually taped an "O" over the "D" on the van's gear shift label.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Despite Ian being told by Barley that "Arcane Lightning" is the hardest spell and seeing him fail to cast it properly, the final trailer shows Ian casting lightning during the battle with the dragon monster.
  • Troll Bridge: As the brothers start on their quest and leave New Mushroomton, they pass over a toll bridge. There is a troll manning a tollbooth for the Under Bridge Transportation Authority and the sign under the troll announces that they accept either cash or riddle as payment.
  • Trying Not to Cry: Barley is clearly trying very hard to keep himself from crying as he encourages Ian to keep crossing the bottomless ravine after the safety line comes loose.
  • Unconventional Food Usage: Ian and Barley at one point sail down in an underground river in a canoe made from a giant cheese puff.
  • Unicorn: Two of them appear in the trailer as garbage-eating pests, not unlike raccoons, raiding the Lightfoots' garbage can and then hissing angrily at Ian. They are also winged, and can indeed fly, as shown in a flashback to a time before the world modernized. In the past, unicorns were shown to be majestic, as how we picture them, but over time adapted into scavengers and physically deteriorated to match the lifestyle. Even in the wild, they’ve been reduced down to a similar state as they are in the suburbs, albeit more fierce.
  • Unreveal Angle: Ian is only able to see his fully-resurrected father from the back and at a distance, watching him and Barley interact from inside the rubble of the school, and we as the audience also only see him from Ian's POV. By the end of the movie, both Ian and the viewers still only know what Wilden looks like from the photos of him.
  • Urban Fantasy: The movie is set in a modern suburbia inhabited by fairy tale creatures like elves, mermaids, trolls and gnomes.
  • Vanity License Plate: Barley's Guinevere van has one on it that reads "GWNIVER."
  • Wham Shot: Ian and Barley reaching the end of their quest, by emerging from a manhole to discover they're back home in New Mushroomton, in front of their high school.
  • What Have I Become?: Said literally by the Manticore when she realizes she's Disneyfied herself.
  • Where It All Began: The brothers' quest eventually leads them back to their hometown of New Mushroomton.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe:
    • The teaser ends with the words "Cometh soon," while the first trailer has the phrase "The quest beginneth."
    • Barley also briefly dabbles in this in the first trailer:
      Barley: (During Ian's 16th birthday) By the laws of yore, I must dub thee a man today. Kneel before me!
    • Every spell description in the Quests of Yore book is written like this as well.


Ian destroys the curse dragon

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