Onward (2020) Review: A story of love and grief

Onward (2020) Review: A story of love and grief

The Story
In a modern fantasy suburbia, Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) have been gifted with a magic staff from their long-departed father. Barley was only a young child when their father died, and Ian never knew him, and now both are granted an opportunity via magic to bring their dear old man back for one more day. The magic spell is interrupted and, as a result, only one half of their father is brought back to life, the lower half, chiefly his legs. The boys must travel on an epic quest in order to bring the rest of their father back to life before all of him disappears again. 

Analysis
Onward is as majestic and magical as its setting with crisp animation, fluid chemistry from Pratt & Holland's respective characters and the overall heartfelt mannerism that's tugging the heartstrings. Disney & Pixar continue to thrive on their original storytelling and cathartic tone and this film is no different. Onward is the first time Pixar has ventured into a fantasy realm and the mixture of the modern with the high-fantasy setting allows for some fun juxtaposition. The teenage worries about fitting in, testing your boundaries, and finding out your sense of self can be very relatable, even in a world of trolls and elves. I enjoyed the combative and compassionate brotherly dynamic between Ian and Barley, and Holland are terrific together and really do feel like feuding family members. Their high energy performances translate well to animation. The Pixar creative team does enough to provide little distinguishing character touches for both, enough to provide some extra shading so they don't quite feel like cartoon versions of their more famous Marvel counterparts. Ian is all awkward and lacking in confidence whereas Barley is overloaded with self-confidence and an unshakable sense of arrested development. 

Highlights:
Onward isn't top-tier Pixar but it's a solid mid-tier entry, an enjoyable adventure with a resonant emotional core that makes me forgive many of the film's other aspects that don't quite work. The brothers are the best part, their interactions are the most interesting, and their heartfelt journey and hopeful desire for closure is what ultimately left me emotionally satisfied. The jokes and world and supporting characters don't feel as developed, but it hits with its core relationship and its emotional centre, so Onward works where it counts the most with its storytelling. Mid-tier Pixar is much like mid-tier pizza — still satisfying and better than a lot of other options. 

Drawbacks:
The Manticore seemed like a one-scene character that the filmmakers didn't want to drop, and so she was stretched through the rest of the film to diminished returns. The last act has a sudden and arbitrary monster to defeat that feels like the kind of thing expected in these sorts of movies, which is a rarity for Pixar and thus a slight disappointment. Lastly, much of the humour just doesn't work. The jokes can be stale, safe, or one-note, like a team of very tiny pixie bikers. It's often silly without exactly being clever. There's more fleeting visual humour with the incongruous nature of fantasy in a modern setting. There's less slapstick than you would think considering one of the main characters lacks a torso. I chuckled a few times but, much like the fantasy setting, felt the humour was kept at a superficial level of thought.

Did I Like It:
Yes, would definitely recommend it.

Rating 3/5

 


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