IAN LIGHTFOOT, a newly 16-year-old elf, yearns for the father he lost back before he was born. Ian is sweet and determined with the best of intentions, but his lack of confidence and nervous energy trips him up more often than not. Ian is convinced that if only he had his father’s guidance, his life wouldn’t be so complicated and messy.
Ian has a kind, caring personality and loves both his mother and brother. However, as a result of not knowing his father at a young age, Ian developed an awkward personality where he was afraid to try almost everything. This led Ian to be unconfident in his capabilities to do anything, despite him striving to be like his father whom he admired so much.
Despite loving his brother Barley who was his polar opposite, Ian was secretly annoyed by and skeptical of his brother's antics and had a hard time going along with Barley and his ideas. However, over the course of their journey, Ian's bond with Barley grew stronger and he realized that although he never knew his father, Barley was the one who helped and guided Ian throughout his life, making him the father of his life.
Ultimately, his yearning for his father, while understandable, led to the development of his greatest flaw, which is his lack of appreciation for the worthwhile things he already had. His other shortcomings stem from this core trait, from the somewhat distant, if loving, relationship with his brother and mother, to his low self-esteem and social awkwardness. In the end, it was by letting go of his father and the expectation that he had to be like him that he grew into his own.
After the brothers' adventure, Ian became more confident and social where he made new friends, accepted his mother's new boyfriend (who he was uncomfortable about in the beginning) and spent more time with his older brother. He stands up straighter and although he is still awkward, he is now more willing to try taking risks.
Ian is a 16-year-old blue elf with dark blue curly hair, brown eyes, and pale long, pointy elf ears. He wears a plaid red flannel shirt with old blue jeans and blue sneakers. Ian also bears a resemblance to his late father, Wilden Lightfoot, as he has his father's nose, eyebrows, and skinny physique.
- Driving: Initially, Ian was afraid of driving, particularly of driving on the highway and couldn't merge into the lanes. After a trial-by-fire of escaping the Pixie Dusters and with Barley's help, he managed to not only overcome his doubts of driving but also become an excellent driver, enough to temporarily elude the police.
- Sewing: Ian was taught by his mother, Laurel to sew with a needle and thread and is shown fixing a tear in his dad's old sweatshirt.
- Magic: According to Barley, in order to wield Magic, one must have an affinity for it, as Ian discovered when he accidentally cast the Visitation Spell to bring back their father. However, due to not being prepared and dismissing Barley's attempt to help, the spell only worked halfway, bringing only their father's legs and waist back. To prepare to cast the spell again, Barley had Ian practice spells from his "Quest of Yore" book, and Ian eventually mastered the following spells:
- Aloft Elevar - Levitation Spell
- Accelior - Velocity Spell
- Boom Bastia - Fireworks Spell
- Magnora Gantuan - Growth Spell
- Flame Infernar - Fire Spell
- Illusio Facadis - Disguise Spell
- Bridgrigar Invisia - Trust Bridge Spell
- Voltar Thundasir - Arcane Lightning
Ian, along with his brother Barley, first appears at the beginning of the film where the elf brothers live at New Mushroomton. He comes down wearing a Willowdale College sweatshirt and we are introduced to his confident, chaotic family that makes him the shy odd one out. It's Ian's sixteenth birthday and as he leaves get breakfast for himself at Burger Shire, Barley offers to perform an ancient birthday ceremony with him, to which Ian nervously declines. At Burger Shire, he encounters a fellow elf named Gaxton who realizes that the sweatshirt he is wearing once belonged to his father Wilden before he passed away. After a good conversation with Gaxton, Ian gets his order from Burger Shire and writes a list of goals to become more like his bold, confident father. It quickly goes downhill, however, when he fails to stand up to a troll named ”Gorgamon" and fails to find the courage to merge into traffic in his driving lesson. Back at school, Ian sheepishly invites some of his classmates to join him for his party at his house. The conversation goes smoothly until it is interrupted by Barley, who offers to bring them to Ian's house on his van named Guinevere. Horribly embarrassed by Barley's wildness, Ian awkwardly says his party was canceled and bids his colleagues farewell.
After Barley takes Ian home, the young elf heads into his room, disappointed in himself and crossing out his goals on his notepad. He turns on a tape recording of Wilden that he's listened to many times and pretends to have a conversation with him. Later, Ian's mother, Laurel sits next to him as he fixes a tear in his sweatshirt. He asks Laurel if Wilden was always so confident and she says that it took him a while to get that way. She also says when Wilden was sick, he fought hard to meet his new son. Laurel then decides to give her sons their father's gift now. The three elves bring the gift into Ian's room and find that it's a magical staff, a Phoenix Gem, and a letter that gives instructions to use a Visitation Spell to bring Wilden back for twenty-four hours. When Barley fails to recite the spell, Laurel kindly tells her disappointed sons that at least this meant how much Wilden wanted to see them.
Later, Ian quietly begins to read the spell aloud, causing the staff to quake. Startled, he catches it and finishes the incantation. A beam of magic shoots into the floor as Wilden begins to appear, starting with his feet. As the spell becomes harder to hold, Barley rushes over to help, but Ian, worried his help will make it worse, holds the staff back, causing his brother to knock him over. As they get back up, they are shocked to see that only Wilden's bottom half has been brought back. Despite this, they are able to share a brief tender moment with their father and let him know that they are there. Ian is devastated at how this turned out, but when Barley states they can still bring the rest of him back, but only within twenty-four hours, Ian sets a timer on his watch. In a plan to find another Phoenix Gem, Barley explains to Ian that the Manticore's Tavern is the place where all the quests begin and the only place to find another Phoenix Gem. Ian is iffy about this idea but is willing to try if it means they get to meet their dad.
After leaving a note for their mother, the brothers get in Guinevere and make their way out of town. Ian makes a new list of things he wants to do with Wilden and Barley suggests Ian practices his magic before they try the spell again. Ian tries to use the levitation spell on a can of Mountain Doom and Barley says he has to speak from his "heart's fire" to make the spell work. Embarrassed by this silly name, Ian still can't quite get the spell going and gives up for now. Soon, they arrive at the modernized Manticore's Tavern where they encounter the Manticore, who now goes by Corey, who is supposed to help the elves find the gem. Corey, struggling to keep her restaurant running smoothly, refuses to at first since, according to her, she quit sending people on dangerous adventures. She goes to fix the karaoke machine when Ian shyly decides to try again and take a stand, fearing Barley's way of trying to convince her was going nowhere. When Corey again declines their request, Ian forces out a little more courage and reminds her of her former self by pointing out a portrait with a quote above it. The Manticore, now angry at the life she's living, drives the customers away and blindly sets the tavern on fire while Ian finds the map to a phoenix gem before it burns to ashes. As the boys rush to the exit, Wilden falls behind and a beam is about to fall down upon him, but Ian successfully uses the levitation spell to keep it floating still. Barley grabs the pair of legs and Ian lets go of his struggling focus, letting the beam fall. Upon escaping, the only surviving clue Ian and Barley obtained during the fire was a kid's menu from the tavern to which the clue is linked to the Phoenix Gem at Raven's Point. Ian suggests they take the expressway which will save more time, but Barley states that on a quest, it isn't so wise to take the easy path, so he suggests the Path of Peril. Ian, trying to be nice, explains to Barley that this journey shouldn't be treated like what "Quests of Yore" depicts and what matters is that they get to meet their dad. Barley agrees and they take the expressway.
On their way to the mountains of Raven's Point, Ian crosses a few things off on his list and says it's okay and he just wants to meet his dad. The boys run out of gas for their van and Ian suggests they use magic to fix their problem. Barley teaches Ian the growth spell to grow their almost empty fuel can. He instructs Ian to stay focussed on the can, but he absentmindedly keeps distracting him, so Ian gets fed up and lets go, accidentally shrinking his brother. Ian decides to head to the nearest gas station, and Barley, albeit upset that Ian blames him for the accident, follows. They go to the Swamp Gas area, and Ian buys a refill for Guinevere. With Barley being there, he adds Cheese Puffs and a bathroom key while requesting the cashier, increasing the cost. After the overwhelmed elf and his father leave the mart and get their gas, he notices Barley arguing with Dewdrop, leader of the Pixie Dusters, about the old days. Ian doesn't want any more trouble to be caused, so he picks his brother up and accidentally makes Wilden, who is attached to a leash, knock over the Pixie Duster's motorcycles, making them furious. Due to Barley's diminutive size, Ian is forced to drive Guinevere by himself. Barley instructs him to start the van's engines as the Pixie Dusters close in. When he finally starts it up, Ian rushes the van onto the freeway with the sprites in hot pursuit. It's during this chase when Ian is forced into a situation where he has to gain the courage to merge into traffic, and he does. Under pressure, Ian follows Barley's instructions to use his arm to signal as he moves toward the road that leads to the mountains and to focus on the road when the sprites come in and attack them. As they scratch and bite on his face, Ian remembers Guinevere's extreme air conditioning and turns it on full blast to blow the sprites out of the van. With them gone, Ian jumps the van into the road heading to the mountains.
Soon, Barley starts to grow back to his full size, causing Guinevere to swerve recklessly, alerting nearby police officers Specter and Gore. To avoid getting arrested, Ian and Barley disguise themselves as their mom's boyfriend, Colt Bronco. He has to not lie or the disguise will start to dissipate, and as Ian's ear and hand are briefly revealed, he responds to Specter's question of why Colt is here by saying he was giving ian driving lessons. As Spector suspects that there's something off about "Colt", Ian nervously goes off expressing awkwardness and insecurity. Specter takes this as parenting issues and lets him and Wilden go. Before the brothers can return into the van, Gore speaks out about how Barley must be a handful and that Colt's gotta agree that "the guy's a screwup". Ian doesn't want to hurt his brother's feelings, so he says he doesn't agree, revealing his leg and shocking Barley. Embarrassed, Ian timidly forces themselves into the van as he lets the disguise spell disappear bit by bit with each nervous lie he tells. As they drive away, Barley gives Ian the silent treatment. Feeling bad, Ian tries to tell his brother that he didn't mean what he said and irrationally guessed that the magic mistook it for a lie. Still upset, Barley turns on his music and stops at a soda machine to get a Fire Elixir energy drink. Ian follows and tries again, remarking on how everything has gone wrong and how everything they've done so far has been Barley's idea. Barley says he is upset that Ian won't listen to him and take his ideas for consideration. Ian knows that's true, but he doesn't want to show it. The boys then notice Wilden feeling the vibrations of the loud rock music and dancing like nobody's watching. The pair of legs brings them over to dance with him, and they playfully make fun of how bad his dance moves are. As the song comes to an end, Ian notices how Barley also really wants to see their father and, empathizing, he lets Barley take the path of peril for the rest of the quest.
The next morning as Barley drives Guinevere across the ancient path, they come across an enormous bottomless chasm where they see an ancient drawbridge with a lever on the other side. Barley tells Ian to use the trust bridge spell so he can get to the other side and pull the lever. Ian is told that he has to believe the invisible bridge is there or else it won't work, but he is too afraid. When he gets a rope for if he falls, he tries the spell, but falls, the rope catching him and Barley pulling him up. The second time, Barley assures Ian that he's got this and he is able to believe the bridge into fruition. Ian is blown away by what he is doing and happily walks across the pit slowly but surely. When he looks back, he sees that the rope fell off, throwing him off and breaking the spell. Luckily, he is at the other side of the pit and he pulls himself up and pulls the drawbridge lever, eyes wide with terror. When Barley remarks that Ian didn't need the rope after all, the young elf looks into the chasm and smiles. Barley points out raven statues that appear to be pointing to where the gem is and Ian realizes that if they took the expressway, they would have been going the wrong way. Soon, Colt Bronco arrives in his police car and prepares to bring the elf brothers home. Barley tries to stop him, but Ian insists they do as Colt says. The boys hop into Guinevere and it's revealed that Ian has a plan; Although he doesn't feel right about it, he floors it in an attempt to escape Colt. The boys run into a dead end as Colt, along with police backup, follow close behind. Barley tells Ian that he is ready to use Arcane Lightning, the hardest spell in the Quests of Yore Enchanter's guidebook, and that he should use it on a cliff to send debris down and block the squadron's path. Under pressure, Ian tries as hard as he feels like he could, but he can't do the spell yet. Ian is about to lose hope when Barley sacrifices Guinevere by sending her into the cliff and blocking the path with debris.
Ian is surprised at what Barley did and they move along, following the ravens by foot until they stop at one pointing downward at a brass disk built into the ground. Barley tries lifting it up, but it won't budge. Ian notices something on the statue's chest and presses it. It falls out as a four pointed tablet with a water symbol and an X. The brothers then spot a river that leads into a cave. Using a Cheese Puff to enlarge it and use it for transportation, the two make their way across the river and play around with spells. After a while, they sit down and talk about how excited they are to see their father. This conversation leads to Barley telling Ian that he was too afraid to go and say goodbye to Wilden, whose state of being traumatized him. Ian stares sympathetically as Barley explains that this is the reason why he doesn't appear to be afraid of anything. Soon, they arrive in a hall of wizard statues with a doorway at the end, ending the river. Arriving there, the two work together to survive the gauntlet of booby traps (Including the Gelatinous Cube, and A flooding chamber) and reach the top of the mountain, only to find out the brothers are at New Mushroomton again.
Ian thinks they went the wrong way and his insecurity about his brother's flaws comes out at full blast as he blames Barley for wasting their time and denounces him as a screwup. He storms off with Wilden to spend the last few moments with his late father before sunset. As Ian sits down with his father, he sadly crosses off the things he wanted to do with him, but as he gets to "driving lesson", his mind went to when Barley was helping him escape from the Pixie Dusters. He looks at other spots on his list and he begins to remember not just what the brothers did together on their quest, but also the moments he had when they were young. Ian's heart swells as he checks off everything on the list. Feeling awful about what he said to him, Ian takes Wilden and rushes back to apologize to Barley. He finds him on an ancient fountain that is about to be torn down, holding the phoenix gem they were looking for. He warns Barley of a mass of red smoke escaping the fountain; opening the fountain has unleashed a guardian curse that tears pieces of the nearby school off and form them into a fire breathing dragon. The dragon sculpture fights the boys to get the gem back and breathes a stream of fire, separating them.
The dragon is about to strike at Ian when suddenly, The Manticore arrives with her enchanted sword, the curse crusher. Ian is surprised to see that Laurel is riding on the warrior's back. The women distract the curse dragon, and the brothers prepare to recite the visitation spell again. When the spell gets hard to hold, Ian calls for Barley's help and together, they bring the spell to a point where the gem does the rest. When Corey and Laurel are incapacitated, Barley offers to distract the dragon while Ian says hello to Wilden. Ian stops him and tells him to stay and say goodbye to their dad, saying that although Ian never had a father, he always had Barley. Without hesitation and with courage in his heart, Ian heads off to battle the dragon, using every spell he knows. When he is flung onto the ground, he loses the wizard staff as it gets knocked into the ocean. Remembering Barley's remark to use what he has, he uses a splinter from the staff to create a new one. As the dragon gets closer to Barley and Wilden, Ian finally recites the Arcane Lightning spell with success and blows a part of the dragon apart, leaving its core fully exposed. Laurel hurls the curse crusher and Ian uses the velocity spell to stab the core, sending debri everywhere. Exhausted, Ian collapses and gets trapped around the fragments of the school. With the dragon destroyed, Barley spends his last moments with his father just before he passes away once again. Barley then comes over to help his brother out of the debris, telling him that his father is proud of his youngest son for becoming the young man he is now and that he owes it to Barley to bring him there. The brothers share a sentimental hug left from their father, and their quest is complete.
During the epilogue, magic has come back to the land at a small scale, and Ian gives a lecture his class of what he's learned about magic. It's also pointed out that he used his staff to repair the school after it was destroyed by the curse. When the bell rings, Sedalia and her friends come up to congratulate him on his talk and invite him to come with them to the park, to which he eagerly accepts. When he comes home, he greets Blazey and tells Laurel that school was "really good". Later, he and Barley head to the new van called "Guinevere 2", and Ian surprises his brother with a paint job he gave it of the brothers in warrior and wizard costumes riding the Guinevere unicorn. As they enter the van, Barley suggests they take a shortcut through the road of ruin, but Ian playfully remarks "On a quest, the clear path is never the right one", so they take the magic way to the park by making it fly off into the sunset.
In the official teaser trailer for Onward, Ian leaves his house preparing to take out the trash just as he comes across Barley inviting him for a quest. Ian denies, explaining that he has garbage to take out, much to Ian feeling disgusted that Barley let the trash can lid off, just as Ian notices two unicorns making a mess near him in disgust just as Ian shoos them away and later takes out the trash. At the end of the teaser, Barley takes Ian on a quest.
- This is Tom Holland's first animated role in a Pixar film.
- His appearance reminded many people of Alfredo Linguini's appearance.
- His nose is very similar to Tom Holland's other animated character, Walter Beckett.
- He shares similarities between the 2003/2009 Fullmetal Alchemist character: Alphonse Elric.
- Both are younger siblings.
- Both are calm and passive disposition exists as a foil to their older brother's more abrasive personality.
- Ian shares some traits with his father, Wilden:
- Both were unconfident until they found the courage to become confident people.
- Both were skilled in magic.
- Both have a similar physical appearance.
- In earlier versions, Ian was in fact interested in magic and Barley was interested in music. The filmmakers cut this version because there wasn't enough conflict.
- Ian's physical appearance reflects his distinct personality being neat and concise with Barley's appearance reflecting his personality being messy and casual.