Another Pixar movie is making its way to the cinema which means there’ll be yet another animated film on the scene that’s feigning emotion in order to make money. Pixar is undoubtedly the most overrated studio of all time; yes they’ve made a handful of classics but snooty critics act as though their entire catalogue is flawless. Like almost half of Pixar’s filmography, Onward is not touching, it’s not uplifting, and it’s not powerful but it wishes it was and once again the public will most likely fall for this movie’s superficial warmth and faux poignancy.
Onward is billed as an “urban fantasy” that centres around the relationship between two elf brothers (Ian Lightfoot voiced by Tom Holland and Barley Lightfoot voiced by Chris Pratt). The pair grew up without a father but their deceased dad Wilden, thanks to a wizard’s staff, is brought back to life for 24 hours. The only problem is: the magic spell doesn’t quite work and their pops is back minus his torso, arms, and head. The brothers then have to go on a quest to get their dad’s top-half back (which unfortunately doesn’t play out as oddly or as funnily as it sounds).
Ian keeps a to-do list: things he wants to do with his life and with his father but the further the film goes and the closer he gets to the 24 hour deadline, it looks like his list will never be fulfilled. 😢 Onward is very safe, sticking to tried-and-tested Disney and Pixar formulas of making you sad then happy then sad again with a depressing backstory setting the tone from the start. That being said, with the bottom-only of a parent and a “dead”, sunglasses-wearing top-half, the father character is very reminiscent of Cow & Chicken and Weekend At Bernie’s. The two teens spend a lot of the film waltzing around with their half-dead-half-dad, unfortunately Onward doesn’t contain the level of comedy of either of these two classics. That doesn’t matter of course, because there could be enough dramatic, heart-warming elements to compensate, but that’s not the case either.
Firstly, it’s not really clear why the spell misfired; something to do with the size of the magic gem perhaps? Anyhoo, the two elves go on a quest to find another “Phoenix Gem” but hold on there… the quest also holds a curse! This all sounds fun and for approximately half of the run time it is. Unfortunately, the other half is filled with various annoyances: the centaur cop who’s also the boys’ mother’s irritating boyfriend, the cliched “Dykes On Bikes” pixie biker gang, and the weak-willed younger brother too scared to go through with anything, it all gets really old really fast. Also, this film is set in a fantastical world where people are named Barley, Gore, and Gaxton, but then suddenly there’s… Ian… like an Eastenders character wandered into this realm!
The film “stars” Tom Holland and Chris Pratt and there’s also the voices of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, and Lena Waithe. Aside from Holland however, everyone seems to be phoning-in their performance with each actor’s voice sounding very much like themselves rather than a unique character.
Created by Dan Scanlon, the director of Monster’s University (a substandard sequel) Onward isn’t particularly unique to look at. It’s kinda DreamWorks’ Trolls meets Netflix’ Bright with the Wyld Stallyns van from Bill And Ted thrown in. That might sound distinctive but it’s not, not really. Aside from the visuals, Onward isn’t a terrible film, it’s not even the worst Pixar film, and it’s much better than most Disney remakes. For an animated kids movie, the drawbridge scene is tense, especially if you’re afraid of heights. There’s also a quick comment on the commercialisation of culture with chain restaurants and technology replacing magic and magicians. During the finale, the face of the school mascot (a friendly dragon) forms the face of the giant evil dragon which is also a nice touch.
SPOILER ALERT! In the end, Ian discovers (via a series of flashbacks as he looks at his list) that his brother Barley has played a major part in his life. He may not have had a father but his brother did everything for him; play with him, danced with him, taught him to drive, and most importantly love him and share his life with him. This is a great message and it’s the best part of the movie. Although the first flashback may make you roll your eyes (as you think the audience aren’t that forgetful) this scene is the strongest in the entire film. If you’ve lost your parent or are raised by your older sibling, this revelation will make you tear-up. This satisfying finale is then ruined with a few extra scenes in which the town-folk begin to use their newly-found magic skills in their day-to-day lives which means the comment about commercialisation is lost along with the potentially weepy conclusion.
Speaking of commercialisation, ever since Walt Disney’s acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios, it seems this once brilliant studio is declining in quality along with their parent company. Cars 1 through 3, The Good Dinosaur, and the aforementioned Monsters University have all been made under Disney’s control whereas Finding Nemo and the first two Toy Stories were without this mega-corporation’s involvement. You can just tell that Disney wants lots of content for their streaming service Disney+ and they’ll green-light any unpolished movie just so they’ll have exclusive films for their platform.
Like the pre-film short (The Simpsons’ “Playdate With Destiny”) you cannot help but notice that these one-time creators of classics are now old and hackneyed and not as effective as they once were. Onward tells of a time long ago when there was magic but as the narrator says “over time the magic faded away”. This line sadly seems to apply to Pixar too.
Onward But Not Upward.