I’ll be honest. When I first saw the teaser trailer for Onward, I thought it looked… kind of stupid. (Sorry 😬) And it’s not that the fantasy genre isn’t my thing, either. I’ve loved Tolkein since before Peter Jackson made the Lord of the Rings movies. I spend HOURS every week listening to – and debating about – deep cuts from the Harry Potter universe. I’m not much of a gamer, but I run in geek circles enough to get the great stereotypes and tropes that would likely be explored. It just didn’t seem to work for me. I mean, the unicorns rummaging through the trash like raccoons? Yawn. And also, weird.
Set in a suburban fantasy world, Disney-Pixar’s “Onward” introduces two teenage elf brothers who embark on an extraordinary quest to discover if there is still a little magic left out there.
As more came out about it, I began to assume there had to be more to the story. It would almost certainly be another thing that Pixar got right, even if I really had no idea what to expect. They have a way of doing that to me, and – save for one exception – have never let me down.
Then, we saw quite a bit of extended footage at the 2019 D23 Expo. It was abundantly clear that yes, Pixar would once again find their way into our hearts. Especially for those of us who have craved more original stories amidst the sequels, Onward is a joy. Pixar does as Pixar does, knitting together funny characters, fanciful settings, humorous sight gags and plays on the mundane, and – of course – a family-centric story that will tug on the heartstrings (and probably make you cry).
As I write this, Onward sits with an 86% critic rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not always reflective of my opinions on movies, this time I feel like the criticts there got it right; I’d give Onward a solid B as well. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are unsurprisingly believable – and oh so endearing – as elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot. Julia Louis Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer are a delightfully surprising duo.
As Barley and Ian go on a quest to find a magical way to spend time with their deceased father, the story is fine. The touching moments between brothers, and with their mother, though, are absolutely precious. (Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the folks at Pixar nailed the writing about family? Anyone? …. Anyone at all? 😏 )
The movie falls short in exactly the places I expected it to. Mostly, the world they live in – where magic once prevailed and now exists, sort of, alongside the mundane – is not thoroughly believable. For example, a setting which once featured a famed and fabulous manticore is now a knock-off Medieval Times restaurant… until it’s all of a sudden not. The transitions feel a little clunky. (Despite the fact that I think the explanation of the demise of magic is brilliant in its simplicity). From the studio that made me buy in wholeheartedly and immediately when they purported that toys and cars had feelings, I’m not sure exactly why they couldn’t quite swing it this time.
I’m well aware how bipolar my opinions seem to be regarding this film. In my opinion, that’s sort of the hangup. I can convince myself back and forth, ad nauseam, that you should take the whole family to the theater this weekend and see Onward as soon as possible… and that you should just wait for it to come out on Digital or BluRay.
Ultimately, if you have any inclination to see it, I think you’ll enjoy it. I don’t know what subset of fans, if any, will rank Onward as their favorite Pixar film, but it’ll make you laugh a little, cry a little, and smile a lot for the 102 minutes you’re watching. And it’s one that may continue to grow on me with subsequent watches.