Onward is the latest installment from Pixar and Disney studios and possibly the most unique. The first of two 2020 releases, and the first non-sequel since 2017’s Coco, Onward had relatively high expectations after the critically acclaimed Toy Story 4 (2019) and Incredibles 2 (2018). Luckily for audiences, MCU veterans Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Far From Home) and Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy) provide great vocal performances. Their performance, along with the heartfelt story, translates into a fantastic family-adventure which provides something special for younger and older fans alike.
The film is about two elf brothers, Barley Lightfoot and Ian Lightfoot, voiced by Christ Pratt and Tom Holland respectfully, living in a world that once housed and harbored great magic. The world itself seems to pay homage and act as an expression for several well known fictional characters and beasts, while also adding its own “Pixar flavor” to it.
As the story progresses, as seen in trailers, they go on an adventure to not only restore magic into the world, but to reconnect with their father. He leaves behind a wizards staff along with a spell that will allow him to physically return to the world for 24 hours. Unfortunately, when they first attempt the spell, they’re only strong enough to bring back the lower half of his body, which is the crux of many comedic moments throughout the film.
The attempt at bringing their father back shows that young Ian has “it.” The magical “it” is an indication he can use magic, which is shown by his usage of the wizards staff. Barley, being the lover of ancient magic and lore, acts as the guiding force and teacher to help his brother hone his magical skills. Together, they make a funny and heart-felt team brought to life by Pratt and Holland’s chemistry.
That’s about the extent of the plot I will go as this is all shown in the trailers.
Onward, at its core, is a true Pixar film. What I mean by that is the film has that ability to have you invested enough and guessing how the story will end; and in the middle of that, they usually find a way to pull and tug at your heartstrings. The story’s themes of rediscovering magic in a technological and commercialized world is very relevant. While this type of relevant theme isn’t executed as well as Pixar films such as WALL-E, it’s still effective in telling a story worth telling in today’s society. This movie also deals with themes of loneliness, connection, and family, all focused on with a polished execution from the director Dan Scanlon.
The only glaring negative on the story would be moments in the script and general narrative. Sometimes the dialogue could be considered flat and the physical humor feels unoriginal. The story also drags on from the beginning until the final act. Might not be a major issue with some audience members but it highlighted the familiar story beats Pixar uses, which made the movie too predictable at times. This depreciated enjoyment I had viewing the film as the film’s holes became more glaring.
Besides that, to no real surprise, the film overall has well-done humor. This really shines for repeated viewings down the line as some jokes will only be caught by kids while others will have an extra dimension picked up by older viewers. There are also many jokes tailored for those that have familiarity with the legendary Dungeons and Dragons game, or anyone into fantasy and mythology. Consider this another homerun by Pixar, who have proven yet again why they’re the best in their industry.