‘Onward’ // Film Review: Pixar’s Latest Brings the Magic and Heart

Disney and Pixar releasing a new original movie when the time comes to bring me the amount of joy. That might be strange to say, but I believe the studio is at its best when they don’t force out sequels to unnecessary movies and able to push forward ideas we’ve probably haven’t seen before. This year, we get to have two movies from Pixar that will be enjoyable for the whole family. Soul is coming out in the summer, now the fantasy adventure Onward is the first to, hopefully, be engaging to all.

What’s the Story: In a fantastical world, magic truly exists where there are no humans, but magical creatures that are living everyday life like it’s normal and forgetting the true meaning of magic. It was once part of life. On the day of his 16th birthday, Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) receives a wizard’s staff as a gift from his father, who died before he was born and when his older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) can’t remember him and were raised by their mother Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). As they used the spell to bring in back for 24 hours, they only brought back his legs as the spell goes wrong. Now, Ian and Barley must embark on a quest to bring the rest of their father back before time runs out.

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland in Onward (2020)

This is director/ co-writer Dan Scanlon’s second time working with Pixar after doing 2013’s Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc. that was just alright in my mind. Hearing about the story in advance sounded like it could make for an exciting adventure of kids to love. Looking at the trailers that were released, a part of me thought this had the appeal of an actual Disney movie rather than Pixar if I had to be honest. This is a no human universe sounds similar to what Zootopia brought to the screen a few years ago. Some might get the impression that this has a chance of being one of the studio’s worst outings. Where’s the faith? That’s not the case with Onward. The rest of the year might bring out greater movies later on, but being the first animated movie to come out this decade, this is perfect for families to see at the moment.

In always talking about animated movies, the top property is discussing how it looks. Everything looks amazing. Nothing should come as a surprise there, but just taking a look at the design of the characters and everything else around them doesn’t lose focus on what’s happening around our main characters. This may not look like your typical Pixar movie, but there’s no denying that all the people who made this work should feel accomplished.

Being nervous about how this world will present itself was probably warranted. Yet, I enjoyed the most is the world-building and how even though there aren’t any humans in sight, it looks unique with how wizards, elves, centaurs, pixies, etc. are living together and doing the normal things we do. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these kinds of worlds where no humans are around, but it never began delving into the ridiculousness. It doesn’t take you long to believe that the world was once full of wonder. Remember when Bright had a kind of similar premise, how come it failed to be captivating, huh? In all seriousness, I wouldn’t mind going back into this world. 

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland in Onward (2020)

I loved the brotherhood that grows between elf brothers Ian and Barley. When you have a family film with the voices of Star-Lord and Spider-Man, that’s easy enough to consider me sold. I’m pretty sure they recorded their scenes together, which made the dynamic between them better. Their personalities come into light when Ian is the quieter one getting through each day with the confidence he’s building for himself, while Barley has a wild imagination who’s knowledge of magic is unbelievable and thinks it stills exists when playing his Dungeons & Dragons-like role-playing game he thinks is all true. Never once did this relationship become a problem throughout, and I can see anybody who has a sibling similar to either brother can easily relate. 

Onward isn’t the funniest movie to come out of the bunch since nothing made me burst out laughing for the two hours, but it’s easy to say this is fairly funny. Most of the laughs come from a manticore named Corey (voiced by Octavia Spencer), where the brothers were expecting her to be this fearsome warrior to show them the stone, yet she’s turned into a restaurant owner. The kids at my showing weren’t laughing that much, and there wasn’t a lot in the theater since it was close to noon when I saw it. That might be the only problem I have with the film is that the writing could’ve had funnier jokes.

As these two go on this quest, I was never bored once since I was eager to see how everything will play out, even if they’ll get into trouble while on the road. Who would’ve thought a buddy movie featuring magic could be fun to sit through? When you have just the father’s legs, that can appear too silly on the basis he can’t see his sons and will try to pull a Weekend at Bernie’s, but it didn’t compromise the film at all as it was fun enough to see his kids work together and fix this problem. There was an idea I had of where it was going, and I feel we got something greater as the story pushes forward.

Chris Pratt and Tom Holland in Onward (2020)

And like with any good movie from the animation studio, it will make you tear up without the manipulation. Scanlon inspired to make this after his own father died when he and his brother were younger. Maybe I liked this more than others because my dad passed away not too long ago, and it made me think about if I had one more day with him. Those who haven’t dealt with the loss of a parent might not relate to how much this means to Ian and Barley, and while this didn’t break me like Coco, the emotions were well-earned. That’s something I never like to talk about since it was the first death in my family in a long time, and the connection that I felt was real. The film balances the funny and lighthearted moments. Even before this came out, I’ve heard that it gets emotional in the third act. That’s true. I came close to crying, but I honestly teared up a few times for how moving the story came to be.

In the end, Onward shouldn’t be dismayed in calling it one of the weakest from the studio, since there’s a lot that’s excellent. Is it one of Pixar’s best? No, but this will entertain everyone with its beautiful animation, vocal performances from Pratt and Holland, the world-building, and easily providing a heartfelt message that surely made me tear up a few times throughout. If you’re thinking about skipping this one in theaters, give this a chance since this is on the good side of Pixar. I can’t wait to re-watch this again and see if those emotions will be the same.

The SimpsonsPlaytime with Destiny Thoughts: Before the movie started, they played a Simpsons short in front of it with the character of Maggie, the youngest member of the family, falling in love with a boy while at the park. Similar to the last short played in theaters, The Longest Daycare, it’s another short that doesn’t feature any dialogue, but it’s enjoyable to sit through, and you’ll get more out of this than the recent seasons of the show itself.

If you’re wondering where this currently stands in my Pixar rankings, look for that this weekend.

Grade: B+

3 thoughts on “‘Onward’ // Film Review: Pixar’s Latest Brings the Magic and Heart

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