AS FAR as the ever-expanding pantheon of well-made Pixar films, Onward lands squarely in the middle of the pack. The film, which follows two brothers on an epic quest to retrieve a magic gem that will allow them to see their father again one last time is a very good movie, however the bar that Pixar keeps raising is getting higher and higher with each of their releases. This means that not all Pixar flicks can be mind-blowingly revolutionary as has been the custom as of late. That being said, a mediocre Pixar film is still an excellent movie, as is the case with Onward.
From director Dan Scanlon (Pixar’s Monsters University) and starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man Homecoming), Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy), Seinfeld’s Julia Lous-Dreyfus and Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer, the movie is full of all the heart and talent and creativity that is the expectation of a Pixar film.
Onward is clearly heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons. It takes place in a world where high fantasy such as audiences know from The Lord of the Rings and AD&D exists, but magic has been forgotten because technology has advanced to a point in time not dissimilar to our own modern world. Elves and trolls and pixies and other mythical creatures live alongside one another, enjoying electricity and computers and cars. Minotaurs no longer need to run and pixies no longer need to fly because they can drive now. In some ways the film feels like a mashup between Disney’s own Zootopia with a heavy dose of Netflix’s Bright.
The core of the story follows two brothers, Ian and Barley (played by Holland and Pratt, respectively) who are gifted an ancient wizard staff along with a spell that can bring back their long-deceased father for 24 hours. Aside from the fantasy-inspired action and visuals, and medieval easter eggs, the film is about fathers, sons and brothers. It is at times funny and exciting, as well as emotionally charged and unsurprisingly deep, as Pixar films usually are.
It doesn’t however have the same emotional weight of other recent Pixar entries such as Inside Out or Coco, and while visually stimulating, I dare say that Onward feels the most obvious in its use of the Pixar formula. I think for people who have gone through the loss of a parent though, this film will definitely resonate on a different, more meaningful level than for those who have not.
Pixar’s Onward is a fun and worthwhile movie in its own right, but remains a bit middle-of-the-road for a Pixar film.
(Ryan Mackett is an artist and film enthusiast who resides in Thunder Bay. Email questions or comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)