Onward begins with a look back at a world full of wonder and magic. Magic was a gift some people had and it took a lot of hard work and practice to master. Magic was used to help others, like starting a fire or collapsing a cave to fend off a dangerous dragon.
As time went on new inventions like the lightbulb meant that people didn’t have to rely on magic as much anymore. Magic slowly faded away and was nearly forgotten.
It’s Ian Lightfoot’s 16th birthday. He wakes up at home, puts on his dad’s college hoodie and heads downstairs for breakfast before school. His mom Laurel and the family pet, a small dragon meet him in the kitchen. Ian makes a bowl of cereal that is knocked over when his brother Barley playfully wrestles him to the ground.
Ian tries to make breakfast again but it is continually knocked out of his hand or eaten by someone else. Barley talks about his favorite magic role-playing board game while everyone scurries to get their morning started. Laurel suggests to Ian to invite some friends over for his 16th birthday party and reminds him that today is a great day to try something new.
Ian grabs breakfast on the way to school at a fast-food burger restaurant and bumps into one of his dad’s old college friends who recognizes his hoodie. This new acquaintance tells Ian that his dad always wore purple socks because he was bold. This gets Ian thinking about his dad and who he wants to be.
Sitting on a bench outside, Ian begins writing a list titled, “New Me.” Ian wrote a checklist with three items. One, that he wanted to learn to drive, two he wanted to invite friends to his birthday party, and three become more like his dad. Ian then spends the next part of his day attempting his New Me list.
During his driving test Ian does well around town but as soon as he is told to merge on to the highway he gets too scared and isn’t able to pass his driver’s test. Next, he tries to invite some friends over to his birthday party which appears to be going alright until Barley comes to pick up Ian in his custom cargo van he calls Guinevere. Badly embarrassed by his brother Ian revokes his invitation and says his party is canceled.
Back at home in his bedroom, Ian looks over his New Me list and crosses them off one by one. Ian looking up from his desk at photos of his dad plays a cassette tape of his recorded dad’s voice. The second time Ian plays it he fills in the gaps of silence with his own questions and comments as if he is having a normal conversation with his dad.
Laurel stops by to check in on Ian and seeks to make him happy on his birthday by offering him a gift early, a gift from his dad! The gift is for both Ian and Barley and was saved for them until they were both at least 16 years old. They unwrap the gift to find a wizard’s staff with a note.
The note says the world used to be full of wonder and magic and he hopes there still a little magic left in you, his sons. The note also comes with a visitation spell and a Phoenix Gem that Barley interprets as a chance to bring back their dad for one day.
Barley, the magic enthusiast of the family grabs the staff and says the spell but nothing happens. After several attempts at saying the spell the family gives up and they leave Ian to himself in his bedroom.
Ian grabs the staff and strange things start to happen. It appears as if the staff is alive with power as things around the room begin to float and the staff lights up with blue energy. Ian begins to say the spell and his dad begins to appear starting feet first. Barley heard the commotion and tries to help Ian hold his ground but then the gem explodes and everyone gets knocked down.
The boys look up to hear some noise in the closet and out walks their dad’s legs, he is missing his top half from the waist up. Barley and his dad do their secret toe-tap to let him know they are there. Reading the note again Barley determines they need to find another Phoenix Gem to finish bringing their dad back.
Barley sifts through his game cards to look for the Phoenix Gem card which is at the Manticore’s Tavern. Ian, Barley, and their dad’s legs begin a quest to find the gem and bring their dad back.
Laurel finds a note the boys left on their door and the two cards Barley found of the Phoenix Gem and the Manticore’s Tavern and she takes off in her car to try to catch up with them.
The boys arrive at the tavern that looks spooky on the outside. They muster up some courage and enter the tavern where they find a bright family-friendly restaurant with a goofy mascot, games, and coloring mats with crayons. They find the Manticore, whose name is Corey, trying to manage the restaurant and tend to customer complaints.
After learning the Phoenix Gem is not there Ian and Barley ask the Manticore for a map. Once she realizes the danger they are likely in she takes the map from them and clears out the restaurant by saying the tavern is closed for remodeling. The Manticore is reminded of her primal roots and begins breathing fire all over the restaurant.
Ian and Barley head out again on their quest by following the map on the coloring mat to Raven’s Point. Laurel shows up to the Tavern on fire and finds Corey being interviewed by the police about what happened. Laurel realizes Corey knows where the boys went and does her best to distract the cop so the two of them can get on the road and find her boys.
The boys are still on the road and Barley is talking about all the work he put into Guinevere to get her running smoothly. Just then the van sputters and they pull off the highway to find out they are out of gas.
Barley finds a gas can in the back with a small amount of fuel and he thinks of a new spell Ian can try to get them more gas. Magnora gantuan! This spell makes things larger and in an attempt to make the gas can larger with more fuel Ian doesn’t hold his concentration and accidentally shrinks Barley.
With no gas station nearby Ian and his dad’s legs in tow begin walking to the nearest gas station for fuel. Baby legs Bailey is lagging behind so Ian picks him up and puts him in his shirt pocket and then they spot a gas station in the distance.
While paying for gas and filling up their gas can the gas station is visited by several mini Pixie Dusters riding motorcycles. One of them picks a fight with baby legs Barley who is their size and Ian and his dad accidentally knock over their bikes in an attempt to flee.
Laurel and Corey are in the car and headed towards Raven’s Point. Corey tells her about the curse. If the boys find the Phoenix Gem they will release a curse and the only way to kill the curse is with The Manticore’s sword. The only problem is Corey sold her sword at a pawn shop a long time ago.
The boys run back to the van with the Pixie Dusters chasing them. Barley hops into the driver’s seat but he is still miniature and isn’t able to drive. Ian jumps into the driver’s seat and they take off heading to the interstate. It’s the moment of truth and Ian merges onto the interstate successfully and they escape the Pixie Dusters.
Back on track Barley starts to come back to his normal size and distracts Ian. Police sirens light up and chase down the boys to pull them over for speeding and swerving. Barley thinks of a disguise spell and the boys pretend to be Officer Colt Bronco who is Laurel’s boyfriend. The only catch to this spell is that if Ian tells a lie then the spell will start to wear off. One of the officers catches Ian in a lie about his brother being screw up and Barley’s feelings are hurt.
The boys are let go by the cops and they are back on their quest. They pull over at a rest stop to take a break and Barley and Ian expresses their feelings about Barley being a disappointment. Dad’s legs start dancing to the music on the radio and gets Barley and Ian to join in on the dancing and stop fighting.
They all dance back into the van and begin their quest again. This time Ian allows Barley to choose the path to Raven’s Point. He chooses the winding Path of Peril instead of the highway. When they leave the paved road they lose their rear bumper with the license plate GWNIVER.
Laurel and the Manticore stop by the pawn show to get her legendary sword back. They find the sword and make a deal but once the owner hears how important the sword is she raises the price. Before Laurel can work out a diplomatic solution, Corey paralyzes her with her stinger. Laurel pays what they agreed and the two run back to the car.
With the help of his fellow officers, Officer Colt Bronco is hot on the trail of the boys and he finds the bumper Guinevere dropped heading off on the Path of Peril. Now knowing the path the boys are on he calls for backup.
On their quest heading to Raven’s Point, the boys slam the breaks at the edge of a bottomless pit. On the other side of the pit, Ian spots a handle that will lower a draw bridge so the van can cross over.
Barley remembers a trust bridge spell Ian can use to walk across the air without falling. Ian ties a rope around his waist just in case the spell doesn’t work and on his first attempt, he falls. Barley pulls him back up and Ian tries again. This time with each step he gains more confidence and trust in his abilities and makes it across to lower the bridge.
The boys cross the bridge in Guinevere and spot a raven statue and a mountain in the distance. Barley starts thinking that Raven’s Point may mean something more. Trusting his gut, Barley determines that Raven’s Point is not a destination at the mountain but that they should follow the direction of where the raven statue is pointing as if the raven is pointing with its beak.
Officer Colt Brown catches up with the boys and tries to convince them to get in their car and head home to help their mom relax and not worry anymore about their safety. The boys agree and get in their van but instead, they floor it and follow where the Raven is pointing. They quickly see the raven is pointing at another raven statue.
The boys continue running from the cops and end up at a dead-end on the side of a mountain. Ian attempts the hardest spell to try knocking some rocks down from the mountain to block the path from the cops in pursuit. Ian is not successful and as a last resort Barley sacrifices his beloved Guinevere. He puts a rock on the gas pedal, lines up the steering wheel, and lets her fly into the mountain and create a pile of rubble to hold back the cops.
The boys follow the ravens pointing until they get to the final one that is pointing down. Ian cracks the final clue which gives them a puzzle piece with water waves and an X carved on the back. They then follow the river into a cave. After following the river for a while they are reminded their dad’s time is running out and they need to speed up.
Ian uses the magnora gantuan spell to enlarge a Cheeto puff to use as a raft and then another spell, Accelior, to speed up down the river. On the ride down the river Barley also teaches Ian a fun fireworks spell, Boom Bastia, which creates colorful fireworks.
Laurel and Corey are still trying to catch up to the boys when a Pixie Duster hits her windshield and causes her to go off-road and wreck. With a wrecked car leaving them stranded Laurel quickly improvises and convinces Corey the Manticore to spread her wings and fly them back home.
The boys reach the end of their cave journey and climb up a later and come out of sewer cover in the street back at their home town. Frustrated and discouraged the boys feel defeated and go their own separate ways. Barley keeps looking for the Phoenix Gem near a small monument and Ian looks over his checklist he wanted to complete with his dad.
As Ian reads over his checklist and he realizes he has achieved all his goals and runs to tell Barley. Ian finds Barley again and he is placing the puzzle piece they found at Raven’s Point into a small monument that releases the Gem they have been looking for. Consequently, at the same time, a red smoke is released which represents the curse.
The red smoke fills the surrounding area and pulls apart local building walls and structures to form its identity as a dragon. The boys begin battling the dragon and then Laurel and the Manticore fly into the rescue with the sword needed to kill the dragon.
With Laurel and Corey distracting the dragon who seeks the Phoenix stone, the boys run to a highpoint and say the visitation spell again to finish the process of bringing dad back fully before the sunsets.
The Manticore needs help and Ian decides he should be the one to help destroy the dragon even if it means he won’t see his dad, at least Barley can see him for a brief moment.
Ian uses all the spells he has learned along the quest to help destroy the dragon with the most difficult spell at the end to finish him off, voltar thunderseer!
As Ian stands up in the rubble he peers through a gap in the stones and sees that his dad is back and speaking with Barley just seconds before the sun goes down. The sunsets and his dad, Wilden Lightfoot disappears again just after giving a hug to Barley.
Barley helps lift Ian out of the rubble and tells him what he talked about with dad. Barley found out what his dad’s wizard name would be, that he’s proud of the boys, and to give Ian a hug.
The movie comes to a close as magic returns and the world is once again full of wonders.