PG, 1h 42min
Animation, Adventure, Comedy
In Theaters Now
Disney/Pixar’s “Onward” is a fun, charming motion picture set in a suburban fantasy world where two teenage elf brothers embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic out there. My most critical note of the film is that it doesn’t particularly feel like it has the Pixar magic. Almost any studio could have made this movie.
Where the film does excel is world building. These elves, manticores, centaurs, wizards, and pixies are incorporated into their universe with ease. How they would go about their normal, everyday lives is one of the more amusing and fun aspects of the flick. Think “Monsters Inc.”
The casting of the two leads is also spot-on. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt play the brothers who must go on an adventure to try and resurrect their deceased Dad for 24 hours. Holland is great, but it is really Pratt who’s unforgiving enthusiasm and boundless positive energy keep this train running at a brisk and entertaining pace. Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns to the Pixar family 22 years after “A Bug’s Life,” and Octavia Spencer rounds out the main cast as the repressed Manticore who’s resorted to running a children’s birthday palace to make ends meet.
The script by Dan Scanlon (who also directs), Jason Headley and Keith Bunin is brisk and fun, but it also doesn’t deviate much from the “been there, done that” feeling that permeates the entire film. I have seen these archetypes a million times, watched “Lord of the Rings” style characters band together on a quest and witnessed Indiana Jones-type puzzles get solved more times than I can count. I understand this is what a studio is working to accomplish when making a family film for mainstream audiences, I guess I just expected more from Pixar.
What it does nail, rather effectively, is the familial heart of the film, which beats strong throughout the movie, particularly as it sticks its emotional landing. If you aren’t a tad verklempt in the final five minutes of this movie you have a harder heart than I.
Three-stars means “good,” and that pretty much sums up “Onward.” It is a good, but not great, movie. The animation is quality, but nothing to write home about. Pixar’s worst day would still be better than most animation studios in the world, but the Emeryville, CA studio usually aims a bit higher in the story and animation quality-control department. I wouldn’t propose this being the first Pixar film without any involvement from disgraced former Disney Animation CEO John Lasseter has anything to do with that, but I did have to check if he had any creative involvement after watching the movie. He didn’t.
“Onward” may not be in the top ten of Pixar Animation, but like the best of the companies output the last 25 years it does capture the familial bond that elevates the best of their stories, and it’s loaded with heart. It’s a good movie to take the kids to this weekend.