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Review: Pixar's 'Onward'

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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

MONDELLO: Ian's turning 16.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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

MONDELLO: And a piece of parchment.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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

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

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

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.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ONWARD")

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.