Onward is said to be the first Disney Pixar film after Toy Story 4 to start a slew of original content from the studio. That prospect is both exciting yet risky, allowing Pixar to dabble into unknown territory but also running the possibility they won’t be making as much money as before. It’s a respectable move on their part, but if Onward is any indication of where the company and stories are going then we are definitely heading in an exciting and heartfelt direction.
This is a great Pixar film filled with all of the heart, soul, thrills, laughs, and family enjoyment that you have known it be. It is an original concept on the outside but does tell a familiar story on the inside. That is perfectly all right because Onward provides great oodles of fun from its larger than life setting to the personal story of it’s two protagonists. This is one Pixar film that will be remembered.
The days of magic are over, and in its place is a new modern society filled with mythological creatures who have traded their extraordinary talents to the ease of technology. Pixies ride motorbikes instead of fly, centaurs drive cars instead of galloping at the 700 mph speed they were known for, and all the magical fun has slowly died away.
On the day of his sixteenth birthday, Ian Lightfoot receives a birthday present from his deceased father revealed to be a wizard’s staff. His older brother, Barley, is fascinated with the staff and finds out that there is a spell that can bring their father back for a day. When the spell doesn’t go as planned, they are left with their father’s legs and must embark on a quest to find a gem that can repower the staff to bring all of their father back.
It’s a promising premise and one that is easy to root for. Seeing two brothers yearning to see their deceased father for just one day is powerful and investing for audiences and it is set to an ambitious setting. The brothers are equally interesting too with Ian (Tom Holland) being shy, reserved, and trying to find his voice in the world and Barley (Chris Pratt) who is a bombastic, and courageous elf who yearns for the days of old where magic and quests were all the roar. Each one has their own layers to them that are slowly peeled back throughout the runtime, giving them each a humanity to them that is familiar to most Pixar films. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are both perfectly cast for these roles and I couldn’t see anyone else voicing these characters.
What is most impressive is the setting and backdrop through which Pixar has constructed this world for the story. Technology and modern advancements have given ease and comfort to this mythological community but has also taken away magic and mysticism that made their world once great. It is an exciting setting that could be a mirror image of our own world and how technology has affected us. The movie finds clever ways of working in mythological creatures in a modernized world and the best example of this is with Octavia Spencer’s Manticore, a once mighty beast who has now resorted to owning her own tavern for birthday parties. I was in awe at the scope with which Pixar was trying to capture our modern world.
Unfortunately, not much is done with this impressive backdrop leaving a lot more to be desired. There could have been a great message about the implications technology and advancements has on our society and delivered a real knockout message about preserving what makes us special. The movie never goes that route, but instead uses its larger than life setting to tell a more personal and somewhat familiar story.
The plot takes our two characters on a great quest that pushes these two very different brothers closer to one another. There is a lot of warmth that comes from seeing this relationship develop especially when it leads them on some wacky side adventures that tests both of their strength and courage. It is also a joy to see them try and interact with only their father’s legs and try to form that genuine connection they so long for. They laugh with each other, push each other, and in the end they make sacrifices for another that truly brought tears to my eyes in the end. While the movie could have done a lot with its large setting, I am ultimately glad that it focused most of its attention on the family dynamic that Pixar is well known for.
This is an easily enjoyable Pixar film, but it certainly is not its best. Some of the jokes don’t land as much as they should, and the story can be a bit familiar if you have seen other Disney films. Other than the two brothers, their mother, and the manticore, there are really no other characters that memorable or stood out amongst the story. That’s a little sad to see with all the pit stops our characters make along their journey, that not all of their interactions stood out amongst the pack. This could have been bolstered by Pixar digging deeper into its setting, but they can’t please everyone. It is difficult because we hold Pixar to such a high standard that it can’t always exceed our expectations, but overall the film does a great job at accomplishing what it set out to do.
All though Onward doesn’t hit all of the beats to make a truly outstanding Pixar film, it has all the right elements and heart to make it a great one. This film is bolstered by its tale of two brothers and its unique setting that make this a quite enjoyable romp from the new direction the company is going in. There definitely could have been more areas that were developed, but I have to praise the fact that Pixar definitely went and did something original and in this day and age with so many sequels and reboots, we should be praising films with some originality to them. I definitely recommend you go see this movie if you can, as it is truly an exciting and emotion filled quest.
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