One consequence of the Coronavirus quarantine is the delay in movie premieres. There’s not much point in releasing a movie to theaters if all the theaters are closed. Disney decided to get around that by releasing the new Pixar movie “Onward” straight to streaming on Disney+. Since we’ve got the time, let’s talk about the worldview and Christian lessons from “Onward.”
As always, this is not necessarily a plug, nor is it wise to learn our theology from Hollywood. Instead I want to share some early thoughts and hopefully give you something to consider when talking about the movie with other people. I won’t get into specific details, but there will be some spoilers I allude to.
Quick Plot Summary
“Onward” shows us a suburban world similar to ours, except, instead of humans, the civilization is filled with magical fantasy creatures like elves, pixies, and centaurs. We follow two teenage elf brothers, Barley and Ian. Their father died when they were young, and they have always wanted to know him. Through a magical spell left by their father, they will get to spend one day with him. However, to complete the spell the two must go on a dangerous quest, where they risk everything for even just a little bit of time with their dad.
Not Called to Comfort
One of the first themes that stood out to me here is the need to step outside of our comfort zone and take risks. Whether that comes in the form of taking the less straightforward path, stepping out of your cushy job, or speaking to people you would never dare to otherwise, nearly every character had to learn that the safe and comfortable life is not what is best. This is not an exclusively Christian message. If anything, I thought just as much of Captain Kirk’s “Risk is our business” speech from Star Trek. But this is in line with what we see in scripture. We are not promised health, wealth, and happiness. Scripture is clear that riches and comforts can be a detriment to our walk with God. It is when we are comfortable that we stop relying on God and no longer see the need for a savior. God calls us to step out in faith, trusting not in our power, but in his promises.
Not the Answer We Wanted
Without getting too specific, the movie ends in a somewhat bittersweet way. Ian in particular must learn the hard way that the goal he spent the entire movie seeking was not what was best. It was hard to watch because I think it’s something we all know exactly how it feels. I kept coming back to the idea of prayer. So often we pray to God with a goal in mind, asking him to help us get there. As life progresses, we see how he was there guiding us, but not always to the goal we originally had in mind. We may look back and ask why, but often we see that what he had in mind was better. Psalm 37:4 says that if we delight in the Lord he will give us the desires of our heart. But when we truly delight in his word and presence, our desires become his desires, and it becomes that much easier to see that the riskier and different path he took us on was greater than the one we wanted to take.
The Importance of Fathers and Father-Figures
The heart and soul of this movie is in the relationships between the two brothers and with their father. Their father died before they had a chance to know him. Ian, the younger brother who was not even born yet when his father died, especially feels a hole in his life. He struggles with his confidence and identity as man, always longing for the father he never knew. The need for good fathers is a serious issue that I think our society is slowly starting to realize. They fill an essential role that cannot be easily or effectively replaced.
With that said, sometimes the brokenness of this world shows its ugly face and children are left without fathers. What then? Something the movie emphasizes is other people stepping up to fill that gap. There are consequences, the message is not that we don’t need fathers as long as we have moms, older brothers, teachers, etc. We see just how difficult life is for Ian even with all the help. The church of all groups should understand the necessity of a good father. There is an opportunity to step up and mentor the kids missing one. Sin has left holes in the world and with families. While we can never truly fill the holes, we can help those in need and point them to the only source that can truly satisfy their need.
“Onward” may not go down as the greatest movie Pixar has ever made. At times it felt like yet another Pixar movie. But it was a strong presentation of some very important and personal messages that many need to hear. The lessons from Onward show just how important fatherhood is. More than ever right now, our plans are falling apart. Though he may take us down the path of peril, God is still on his throne and will show us a quest reward far greater than we can imagine.