Movie Reviews

‘Onward’ Movie Review: Pixar Fantasy Lacks Studio’s Signature Magic

DIRECTOR
Dan Scanlon
SCREENWRITERS
Dan Scanlon
Jason Headley
Keith Bunin
STARS
Tom Holland
Chris Pratt

RATING
PG (for action/peril and some mild thematic elements)
RUNTIME
1 hr. 42 mins.
RELEASE DATE
March 6, 2020
STUDIO
Disney-Pixar


With Onward, Pixar transports us to a fantastical world that’s populated by mythical creatures and crackling with all manner of magic. At least it used to be until the ease of technological advances made the craft of magic obsolete. The metaphor is so obvious that it will only be missed by those who: 1. Don’t see the movie at all or 2. Fall asleep during the time-wasting Maggie Simpson short that plays just before the actual feature.

Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) are two teenage elves; they’re also brothers whose mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) raised them following the premature passing of their father. On Ian’s sixteenth birthday, he and Barley unwrap a present left to them by their late father: a wizard staff paired with a visitation spell that, when performed, allows the deceased to return from beyond the grave for 24 hours.

Image result for onward movie
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

Before we go on, it’s important to address how this silly spell works. You see, it doesn’t just bring their dead dad back to life in a “Ta da!” puff of smoke. Instead, it slowly rematerializes him from the feet on up. Keeping this in mind, here’s where things get really weird. Halfway through performing said spell, something goes terribly wrong, resulting in an incomplete resurrection. They’ve only successfully managed to revive their father from the waist down. Indeed, he is only half the man he used to be. Now it’s a race against the clock as the brothers try to find a way to finish the spell before the 24 hours is up and good old dad disappears again, this time forever. I mean who designed this spell?

Onward lacks the rich character development and heartwarming sentimentality that’ve become staples of the Pixar experience. Barley and Ian are essentially extensions of Pratt’s and Holland’s characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Moreover, their relationship is hardly impacted by their journey. At the start of the film they get along better than most siblings I know and by the end they‘re getting along… Even better? The filmmakers try to force feed conflict into the brothers’ relationship later on in the second act during the obligatory breakup scene that always happens moments before our heroes inevitably get back together. But it isn’t earned.

The rendering of the animation is downright gorgeous and there are some hardy laughs to be had along the way. Unfortunately, there’s no spell powerful enough to magically fill the emotional void at the center of Onward.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Those are my thoughts on Onward. Are you interested in checking out this film? Or do your plans include another movie this weekend? If so, which ones? Sound off in the comments below and let me know all your thoughts on the topic!

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