Onward (2020) is the latest film from Pixar Animations and the first original project since Coco. Directed by Dan Scanlon (Monsters University), this film stars the voice work of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Octavia Spencer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. In a world where technology has erased magic, Ian (Holland) discovers that he still possesses magical powers when he tries to bring his father back to life. With 24 hours before the spell wears off, Ian and his brother Barley (Pratt) must find a gem to be able to spend one last time with their father.
The setting of this world is absolutely spectacular. Even if it does take a while to truly showcase the full magic of the location, it is filled with so many fun surprises and details. As somebody who plays DnD, I loved the idea of a world where a fantasy game is grounded in this world’s history. I also loved the exposition, which sets up a world where technology has wiped away all sign of magic. It is a clever way to open up the film, even if I have problems with its overall relevance to the narrative. There is one joke to do with the location of the Manticore which is brilliantly done and easily the biggest laugh of the entire film.
The sort itself is surprisingly simple for a Pixar movie, but it does feel like it is more targeted to an audience of children. There is still plenty for the parents to enjoy, but it is not a bad thing that Pixar wanted a movie of this style. It works extremely well, being a fun and entertaining story for children to fully understand and get the core message from it. This film has an incredibly touching message and one that came out of nowhere, but was well presented and has the ability to make some people tear up.
This film works as a road trip sort of movie, where the characters go on both a physical and emotional journey. Yes, this can be seen as overdone and cliché, especially when the message of the film is to find the magic within yourself whilst incorporating real magic in the narrative. However, as I said before, the simple presentation of this film helps get the message across extremely well. It is also the journey that allows for the fun moments of the film to appear, such as the location of the Manticore.
I was not sold on the two leading characters, Barley and Ian, at the start of the film. They both felt very stereotypical, with one being incredibly shy and isolated and one being extravagant and geeky. I was not a fan of the fact that many people around Barley made fun of him for being geeky and into games like DnD, it just felt outdated and negative. I did start to warm to the characters and their relationship though throughout, and it is their relationship that strengthens their characterisation and makes me like them by the end of the film. They finally feel like fleshed-out characters after the journey, not just plain stereotypes.
Aside from the leading roles, I feel like all of the supporting characters feel wasted. I adore the character of the Manticore and her journey that happens when setting up her plot of the film, but she feels completely wasted aside from her first scene. The film cuts between Barley and Ian’s journey with the Manticore’s journey with Barley and Ian’s mother, and yet whenever the side story is on screen I found myself not caring at all for what happens. I just wanted to go straight back to the main plot. As for the LGBTQ+ mention that has made the news headlines in a positive manner, this is once again a one-line moment that has already been edited out for other countries and Disney still not truly embracing the community, so I did not like the way it was handled at all.
As you can tell by the overall review, this film does take a while to get to the heart and emotion of the story. I loved a lot of the elements this film opened with, but it never truly pieced until about halfway through the film. Despite the brilliant exposition, it leads straight to a scene that simplifies the characters down to stereotypes and a set-up for the journey that did not feel truly connected to the opening moments. If the editing was tighter and the story was more concise, getting straight on with the journey and the main themes, the story would have been more cohesive and the film would have been stronger overall.
Whilst this does not come near other recent Pixar films such as Coco or Inside Out, that just showcases how strong Pixar has been in the long run. This is still a solid film that builds to a very strong closing, even if it does take a while to get settled into the story. This is a more simple presentation from Pixar, but it still contains all of the heart that they are known to always provide.
Have you had a chance to check out Onward yet? How does it rank for you in the Pixar catalogue? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.