Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Written by: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin
Produced by: Kori Rae
Other cast: Chris Pratt, Octavia Spencer
Release date: March 6, 2020 (US)
Premiere date: February 21, 2020 (Germany)
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Running time: 103 minutes
Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, go on a journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him. Like any good quest, their journey is filled with magic spells, cryptic maps, impossible obstacles and unimaginable discoveries. But when the boys' fearless mom Laurel realizes her sons are missing, she teams up with the legendary winged-lion-scorpion former warrior -- aka The Manticore -- and heads off to find them. Perilous curses aside, this one magical day could mean more than any of them ever dreamed.
In a world inhabited by mythical creatures, magic was commonplace several millennia ago, though difficult to master. After technological advances over the centuries, magic became obsolete and was largely discarded.
In the modern day, two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (Ian is a high-schooler lacking self-confidence, and Barley is a history and role-playing game fanatic), live in the city of New Mushroomton. Their father Wilden died of a severe illness shortly before Ian was born, and their mother Laurel has a new boyfriend, centaur police officer Colt Bronco, whom Ian and Barley dislike.
On Ian’s sixteenth birthday, Laurel gives the brothers a gift from Wilden: a magical staff, a rare Phoenix Gem, and a letter describing a “visitation spell” that can resurrect their father for a single day. Ian accidentally succeeds in casting the spell, but only the lower half of Wilden’s body is reformed before the gem disintegrates. The brothers embark on a quest to acquire another Phoenix Gem and complete the spell, taking Barley’s beloved van “Guinevere”. Finding the boys gone, Laurel leaves to find them.
Ian and Barley visit the Manticore’s Tavern, named for a monster possessing a map to the gem. The tavern has become a family restaurant managed by the Manticore, legally named The Manticore, also known as “Corey”. Arguing with Ian over the map, The Manticore realizes how boring her life has become and drives the customers away in a fit of rage, accidentally setting fire to the restaurant and the map. The brothers’ only clue to the gem is a children’s menu suggesting “Raven’s Point”, a nearby mountain. Laurel later arrives at the scene and befriends The Manticore, who agrees to help her. The Manticore warns that the brothers’ journey may awaken a curse that can only be defeated by her special sword, which she and Laurel steal from a pawn shop.
Traveling to the mountains, Ian and Barley narrowly escape the police and a motorcycle gang of pixies, relying on Ian’s newly awakened spell-casting abilities and Barley’s role-playing game instincts. “Raven’s Point” leads them on a trail indicated by a series of raven statues, but Colt follows them, calling in reinforcements. Barley sacrifices Guinevere to cause a landslide, blocking their pursuers. Following the statues, the brothers descend through a cave and avoid a series of traps and deadly creatures, during which Barley reveals to Ian that he was unable to emotionally bring himself to say goodbye to Wilden when he was dying in the hospital. They then run into one final obstacle, and surface to find themselves in front of Ian’s high school. Ian, fed up with Barley’s recklessness, lashes out at him for leading them on a wild goose chase and walks away with Wilden.
Rereading his list of things he always wished to do with his father, Ian realizes that Barley has been a father figure throughout his entire life, and returns to make amends. Barley discovers the Phoenix Gem inside a historic fountain and retrieves it, unwittingly triggering the curse The Manticore spoke of, which creates an artificial golem-dragon out of pieces of the school and other nearby objects, bent on claiming the gem. Ian faces the artificial dragon, but his staff is knocked into the ocean; he reforms it from a splinter and continues the fight. The Manticore flies in carrying Laurel, who plunges the magic sword into the artificial dragon’s heart, buying Ian time to cast the visitation spell and fully reform Wilden’s body. Ian sends Barley ahead to finally give his proper goodbye to Wilden, and holds off the artificial dragon long enough for Laurel to destroy it. After Wilden dissipates, Barley tells Ian that their father is proud of him, and the brothers share a hug.
Sometime later, Ian’s confidence and spell-casting have improved and he surprises Barley by painting his new van, the “Guinevere 2” or the Yellow Guinevere. The Manticore reopens her tavern in its original spirit, drawing in customers with tales of past adventures, Ian and Barley have a better relationship with Colt, and the brothers continue questing.