Onward is neither a step forward nor backwards for Pixar


With the Pixar legacy already having left its profound and deep impact on society and pop culture, there is a great expectation on each new film the studio puts out. The Disney side company’s latest flick, Onward, while great in content, is unlikely to live up to the big names of the studio’s predecessors. 

The animated movie takes place in a world inhabited by fantastical creatures of lore where magic is present. But, paralleling the real world’s industrial revolution, magic became a technology that essentially went extinct with services like electricity and batteries replacing spells and charms. 

Set in this fantastical world’s present day, the story follows two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, who live with their mother. The boys’ father passed away before Ian was born, so all of the younger brother’s life has been lived in a family of three. 

On Ian’s 16th birthday, the two brothers receive a gift from their late father that their mother was to wait till they were both old enough to receive it. The gift is both an offering of hope and a revelation about their dad. He was one of the few people who both remembered times of magic and had the unquantifiable gift of possessing the ability to use it. He left the boys with a spell to bring him back for one day using the magical knowledge. 

But, in true fantasy tradition, the simple premise faces some complications that force Ian and Barley to partake on the questiest of quests to reunite with their dad.

The plot that follows is relatively predictable. Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that most of what you’d expect to happen in a fantasy adventure film takes place, without too much deviation from the norm. While this isn’t a condemnable sin by any means, it certainly isn’t a recipe for a groundbreakingly memorable plotline.

In characteristics that are more idiosyncratic to Pixar, the movie perfectly blends the humourous beats with the bittersweet and touching ones. Something Onward succeeds at most ardently is capturing the bond between siblings and all the sweet and sappy moments that come with familial love.

Like all Pixar movies of days gone by, the voice cast is spectacular. The ever-on-the-rise Tom Holland shows off his American accent chops with the English native perfectly capturing the voice of the nerdy, endearing, awkward younger brother Ian. And Chris Pratt nails the humor of the outrageously foolhardy older brother Barley. Supporting cast and cameos are splendid as well, featuring Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Ali Wong, Lena Waithe, Octavia Spencer and more as all sorts of different mythical creatures.

But, while Onward certainly succeeds at making its audiences feel things (I laughed! I cried! I sweated a little bit!) it doesn’t stray far from the Pixar norm. As a standalone movie, it is a couple of hours of amusement and warmth; but, when pitted against the 20+ powerful preexisting Pixar films, it’s merely a film that falls in the middle of the pack.