7 Parallels Between Pixar’s Onward and Harry Potter

Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter and Tom Holland in Onward

(Image credit: (Warner Bros/Pixar))

Over the years, Pixar has produced some of the most original and refreshing animated films ever. The cutting-edge computer animation studio has brought life to our childhood toys and all kinds of cars, as well as given a voice to the creatures under the sea and a rat who likes to cook. Pixar has given the idea of monsters under our beds and the world of our brains a new perspective. Its latest release, Onward, is a story about magic in the modern world, and once you notice these parallels with Harry Potter, you may never unsee them.

That’s not to say Onward is a ripoff of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It certainly has its own ideas and messages to communicate and does so without stepping on the toes of the massive YA franchise. Chances are when the filmmakers approached the concept of Onward, they weren’t even aware of some of these similarities. Harry Potter is so ingrained in our culture’s DNA that touching any kind of magic might always result in comparisons with the famed franchise.

Let’s get into the handful of parallels between Pixar’s latest movie and the wizardry the Boy Who Lived comes across, and keep in mind that there are SPOILERS ahead.

Harry Potter's birthday cake in Sorcerer's Stone

(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

A Magical Birthday Surprise

Onward revolves around Ian Lightfoot (played by Tom Holland) receiving a present on his birthday that introduces him to a world of magic he never knew about. His mom (played by Julia-Louis Dreyfus) gives him and his brother Barley (played by Chris Pratt) a scepter from their late father that should be able to bring him back for 24 hours. Although Barley initially tries and fails to complete the spell, we find out Ian is the one who can do it. The problem is he only brings back his dad from the waist down. This has obvious parallels to The Sorcerer’s Stone since it’s on Harry Potter’s birthday when Hagrid visits him, with the half-giant bringing the lad a bright pink cake and telling him he’s a wizard.

unicorns and Ian Lightfoot in Onward

(Image credit: (Pixar))

The Unicorns Are Not Particularly Glamorous

Another similarity between Onward and Harry Potter lies in the depiction of unicorns. The mythological creatures are more often than not shown as beaming, angelic creatures who are at the top of the chain. They are respected, loved and highly-coveted. But Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone paints a different picture of them. Because the unicorns in the movie have such sought-after magic, they are not treated as iconically in The Forbidden Forest. Their blood is being used by Voldemort to return his power. In Onward, unicorns are only briefly part of the movie as well, but it’s clear they are not all aglow in this society either.

Ian and Barley Lightfoot in Onward

(Image credit: (Pixar))

It’s All About A Magic Precious Stone

Also drawing from The Sorcerer’s Stone is the titular piece of magic itself that the Harry Potter movie turns out to be all about. In the first adventure involving the young wizard and his friends Ron and Hermione, they find out that Voldemort’s plan is to steal the ruby-red stone in order to make himself immortal. This is the ultimate mystery that involves Harry and his friends in Voldemort’s evil schemes – which would live on for seven more movies. In Onward, the quest is the same, but it’s told in a more straightforward fashion. The Lightfoot brothers travel all over to obtain the “Phoenix Stone,” which will allow them to finish the spell and say goodbye to their father.

Hagrid and Harry Potter in Sorcerer's Stone brick wall moving

(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

There’s Hidden Magic In Ordinary Places

Another parallel that clearly connects the two movies together (we’re still on The Sorcerer’s Stone) is its establishment of magic being secretly present in a modern world. Harry Potter has always been interesting to fans because it imagines a world where magic exists among the mundanity of the world today. According to J.K. Rowling, the world is full of Muggles, and among them wizards and other creatures lurk, but it’s more so in hiding. In Onward, the concept is that the magical creatures of the world as a whole have become modernized and mostly forgotten about magic. Sure they’re a bit different, but at their core it’s attempting to mesh today’s world with magic and mythology.

Pixies in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

Lots Of Pesky Pixies Cause A Ruckus

For a brief venture into Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the subject of pixies. Onward also seems to draw a bit from the movie series’ depiction of the crazy creatures. In both instances, the small, flying beings are mischievous and give off similar sounds when they move around. In The Chamber of Secrets, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart shows them to his class before they go bonkers and terrorize everyone. In Onward, they are more modernized “biker” pixies who are easily set off by Daddy Lightfoot being not so light on his toes and tipping over a row of their motorcycles, and they go after them.

Hermione, Ron and Harry Potter in Sorcerer's Stone, wizard's chess

(Image credit: (Warner Bros))

A Series Of Trials Lie Below Their School

Back to the storyline of The Sorcerer’s Stone, in the third act of the film, the three friends must face some grueling trials in order to prevent the theft of the stone Voldemort is after. The famous sequence has the kids doing a number of dangerous tasks to find what they are looking for, including a violent game of Wizard’s Chess Ron Weasley so valiantly plays. It’s not unlike one of the final big sequences of Onward when the Lightfoot brothers enter the cave and find themselves dodging a few failsafes designed to make sure they don’t survive. It doesn’t end up being the main obstacle the brothers must face in order to see their father but come on...

Harry Potter and mirror of erised and Onward

(Image credit: (Warner Bros/Pixar))

The Search For A Window To Retrieve The Parent(s) They Lost

The theme of losing a parent is no stranger to famed movie characters. Actually, more often than not is a key character without a parent than with one. But, when it comes to Onward and Harry Potter, there are some borrowed themes. For Ian Lightfoot in Onward, his main goal is to spend a day with his father now that he’s been given this spell. He never got to meet him and he feels as though something is missing in his life. But as much as he tries, he does not get to meet him. In Harry Potter’s case, both his parents were killed by Voldemort as a child and that's the root of his story. The moment between Harry and the Mirror of Erised where he gets to see his parents briefly and imagine them certainly reminds one of Onward's final moments as well.

What do you think? Does Onward feel similar to Harry Potter? Sound off in the comments and see the Pixar movie in theaters now.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.