“Onward” stars Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer. Releasing on March 6, 2020, the film has two elf brothers going on a quest to bring their father back to life.
The film is directed by Dan Scanlon, who also directed “Monsters University”. Throughout the last decade, the Pixar team had used their creativity to expand their beloved animated franchises with their successful follow-ups, ranging from the disdained “Cars 2” to last year’s Oscar winner “Toy Story 4”. Sure, they also delivered a few original projects during the 2010s, with some of them being more successful than others, but when you look at their filmography during that decade, you may have noticed that the animation studio had relied a bit more on sequels rather than originality. This year, the studio is once again returning to the tradition that it was famously known for by giving us not one, but two original films in the same year. This means that we won’t be getting any more sequels from Pixar for a while. This wasn’t the first time that Pixar has done this strategy. They did it in 2015 with the releases of “Inside Out” and “The Good Dinosaur”, and they pulled it off again in 2017 with “Cars 3” and “Coco”. While “Inside Out” and “Coco” delivered some huge box office results, “The Good Dinosaur” and “Cars 3” didn’t quite share the same success as the former two, so fingers crossed that this pattern doesn’t happen again this year. This was on my list of anticipated 2020 films mostly because of Pixar’s involvement (obviously), the film’s concept, and the fact that this is the studio’s first original project in three years following the release of “Coco” in 2017. People need to know that originality is not dead. Fortunately, I didn’t have to anticipate it even longer as I was able to attend an advance screening of the film one week before its official release. That means that you won’t have to wait another week to hear what I thought of the film. Thank you, Disney and Pixar. With that in mind, let’s see if this quest can capture the same amount of magic as Pixar’s other animated classics.
The film is set in a fictional world where everything is filled with magic and wonder and the entire population is filled with fantastical creatures like elves, pixies, unicorns, mermaids, and so much more. As the years passed, the population began to rely less on the magic and more on modern technology like cell phones and vehicles. Sounds like the society I know. The story centers on Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt) Lightfoot, two teenage elf brothers who have nothing in common. Ian is the scrawny and nervous type of brother, and Barley is the adventurous type of brother who longs for an epic quest. Their widowed mother (Louis-Dreyfus) gives them a prearranged gift from their father, who passed away before Ian was born and when Barley was too young to remember him. That gift is a wizard’s staff along with a spell that allows the brothers to bring their father back to life for one day. When they attempt to use it, they wound up bringing back just their father’s legs instead. This unusual predicament forces the brothers to go on a dangerous adventure to bring back the rest of him before the spell’s 24-hour limit runs out. Most films from Pixar offer two specific elements: a straightforward and thought-provoking plot and an imaginative world that metaphorically resembles our own experiences in life. “Onward” is unsurprisingly no different as it provided a fun and heart-warming tale about brotherhood as well as a dazzling and magical realm that reflects our modern age of society. These elements, along with its sharp humor and its family-friendly thrills, are enough to make this film a worthy option for kids and their parents. However, it didn’t quite conjure all of the right spells that it needed to become the next Pixar classic. While it had pretty much everything that you would expect from the minds of Pixar, such as the likable characters, its well-detailed animation, and the emotion, I believe that the film could’ve done a bit more with its world. It had a very interesting concept, in which these characters are relying on the technologies of today to get things done easily as opposed to using magic. It resembles our own shift from using old-school materials to using today’s technology because we have a new generation of people who believe that the latter makes everything easy and simple without all of the hard work and stress. This could’ve been a very useful way to teach kids about how useful both of these tools are as opposed to one type being better than the other. Unfortunately, the way this film resolves this plot element wasn’t as strong as its compelling build-up. If the Pixar team had put more emphasis on both the story and the world without making the film too long, especially its third act, they would’ve had another classic on their hands. Aside from this noticeable flaw, the story delivered an irresistible combination of entertainment, imagination, and depth that will fill the kids’ heads with wonder and intellect. The main characters, Ian and Barley, were such a joy to watch, mostly due to the chemistry between Holland and Pratt and the development of their relationship. You have these characters who have to rely on one another to complete their quest despite their differences, only to discover that there’s more to this quest than they realized. Their amusing personalities and the message it provided for this narrative helped make the film much more relatable to people who have their own brothers, especially kids. The other characters were also fun to watch, most notably Corey (voiced by Spencer), a manticore restaurant owner who Ian and Barley encounter during their adventure. Corey is the type of supporting character who attempts to deliver as many funny moments as the ones from the main characters. While far from memorable, she had enough comical moments for me to appreciate her presence onscreen.
Overall, despite hitting a few bumps on the road, “Onward” is a visually-enthralling and thoughtful quest that’s worth taking. There are a couple of issues with its narrative that prevented the film from being inducted into the Pixar Hall of Fame, but it still managed to capture the magic and the emotion that I’ve come to expect from a Pixar film. The story was well-told, the characters were engaging, the animation was beautiful, and more importantly, the quest itself was entertaining. This is the road trip that will surely put a smile on everyone’s faces. If you’re a fan of Pixar, this film is definitely worth checking out. Just don’t expect it to be a masterpiece like “Toy Story” or “Inside Out”.