Directed By Dan Scanlon
Starring – Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
The Plot – Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt) Lightfoot, go on an journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.
Rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements
– Vibrant animation. It should come as no surprise that Pixar has developed another illustriously intoxicating world that effortlessly combines the fantastical elements of magic with the familiarity of our own real world culture, but the attention to detail continues to move in the same progressive direction that has made their company tops in the animated game for the last decade. The landscapes are an abstract painting of expressional color splashes, and the character illustrations bring forth enough detail in their textures and distinguishing marks to make each of them feel like a fully realized breed of species without anyone feeling repetitious. It summarizes a talent capacity that brings the world of animated cinema one step closer to feeling live action, all the while bringing along the feeling of childlike imagination that it has never sacrificed in garnering such an articulation.
– Delightful cast. Holland and Pratt trade in their Avengers garbs for an animated rendering, which has the colorful duo depositing enough heart and big screen charisma to appeal to their respective fanbases. For Holland, the personality of adolescence is captured effortlessly, bringing forth a thirst for adventure, as well as a longing for the father he has never met, which empathetically make him the ideal protagonist for family cinema. But beyond that, it’s the way Holland’s excitement comes through in his deliveries that work hand-in-hand with the expression-heavy illustrations of the character, making them sync up seamlessly with one another in a way that immerses him in the character completely. As for Pratt, it’s a chance to flex some emotional muscle to compliment his everyman jokester that we’ve come to expect from the leading man. There’s a longing within him not only for his father’s untimely passing, but also in how everyone in town sees him that brings forth a redemption story of sorts for Pratt’s Barley, and in tow we are treated to no shortage of depth for a character who would otherwise feel nothing other than the throwaway comic muscle of the film for one direction only. His character is a big heavy-handed at times with how he overtakes a scene, but the chemistry between the two lads settles things down, and makes them an indulging duo who we the audience can’t help but get behind.
– Heavy themes. I’ve always commended Pixar for attacking mature subject matter for its youthful audiences, if only because it respects them far beyond their age capacities, and instead treats them like intelligent little people capable of reading a situation accurately without a heavy-handed direction of its intentions. In this capacity, “Onward” takes us through meaningful loss, father figures, isolation, and evolution, to name a few. Each of these not only has pivotal meaning to their placements in the story, but also helps flesh out an easily attainable message that conjures up the depth from a story so enveloped in fantasy. While it didn’t reach the emotional wrenching for me as a film like “Coco” or “Inside Out”, the chance to spend time with a father for even one more day is something that all of us would beg for, and makes this thematically one of the more accessible installments in the entire Disney Pixar library of acclaimed films.
– Gut-punching climax. Easily the highlight of the film for me is in the final thirty minutes or so, where the culmination of the conflict comes through in a way the captures all of the sentimentality, character growth, and promise for the future with where we leave these characters. In that regard, it is not only one of the more emotionally satisfying finales that I have seen in recent kids movies, but it’s one that doesn’t feel strained or confined because you may have it pegged out early on where everything is heading. The tonal structure evolves smoothly, taking us from this brother road trip movie full of physical humor and clever sight gags, to this dramatic clarity that doesn’t quite work out in the very way that the brothers were anticipating, but one that doesn’t sacrifice our emotional pay-off because of the way we invest in these characters and this one moment that we know neither of them will ever get back again. It’s touching cinema without any of the unearned melodrama, and transfers itself in atmospheric weight that doesn’t have to feel intense to capture the pure tragedy of the situation.
– Expansive world-building. There’s plenty to dissect here, but some of my favorite elements of the story’s setting involve a world where the fantasy of yesterday collides with the technological advancements of today. This feels very resonant of our own world, not only because of our dependency on technological evolution, but also for the few nostalgic residents still longing for the innovation and imagination of a world who’s best ideas feel far behind us. Because of such, “Onward” is the last film that I expected to feel cultural relevance from, but similar to 2016’s “Zootopia”, I saw a lot of ourselves in a film that doesn’t allow itself to get lost in the fantastical beats of the world, and instead keeps itself closely regarded to a do-it-yourself mentality that our duo of protagonists show instead of tell throughout the film. Most importantly, there’s nothing negative or stalled about the society, instead depicting this as a very progressive environment where both aspects of magic and technology can live in harmony with one another, and never demeaning one to appeal to the benefits of the other.
– Switching roles. It’s interesting to see what the movie does with the father, as shown only in the form of a pair of legs, with no upper half that limits the communication and expression of the character throughout the film. The character is rendered in a way that makes him feel like a rambunctious pet, especially considering he dons a leash around his waist for almost the entirety of the picture. Aside from the film’s ability to somehow still garner emotion in the way the legs move slowly to illustrate sadness, or quick to illustrate humor, it’s the way the limitations switch the father and sons’ respective positions that offers the most refreshing originality to the story’s theme about emotional and intellectual growth. With the father being so limited, it is now the boys’ job to take care of him in the same way he did to them when they were children, and aside from presenting no shortage of moments where the boys come full circle with their maturity, it proves the poignancy of Pixar in the way “Onward” captures that monumental day when the protectors become the protected.
– Clean script. It’s impressive to a see a movie that juggles so many themes and so much folklore in the realm of magic never feel convoluted or compromising to the development of the story. I believe part of this attainability is in the way that the spells and curses are described throughout the film, in that they are detailed enough to feel grounded in their general outlining, yet ambitious enough to never feel meandering to the youthfully-dominated audiences who might not fully grasp concepts at this stage of imagination. It proves that Pixar is appealing to a crowd far beyond that of the children that make up its majority, and brings forth moments of edgy material in between to make sure the parents who are taking their kids to the movies are paying attention faithfully. Nothing ever feels unnecessary to the development of the plot, nor does the execution ever require mental straining to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It’s a magnet of cohesive construction that keeps on building until the pieces of sentimentality grow too tall, and tumble on us like a wave of therapeutic sentimentality washing over us.
– Conveniences. There are a few contradictions in the film that required me to suspend disbelief to travel alongside the progression of the narrative. The first is with the jewels themselves, as we are told throughout the film that they are incredibly rare and very difficult to attain. This is then contradicted by the fact that these boys find three of them quite easily throughout the film. Then there’s the logical strains with timing, where an across town journey requires a full 24 hours, with many contradictions enclosed inside of this particular area. Sometimes the miles flow as smoothly as the editing, and sometimes they are driving for what feels like days to us the audience, who are waiting for the next inevitable mission to rear its head. There’s also a delay on the 24 hour clock, which sees it conveniently run alongside Ian’s wrist watch, and only begin when he presses start on it. The curse itself was already taking shape a couple of minutes before this watch was set, but I guess for the convenience of us the audience at home, we have a digital countdown which may or may not be accurate with what’s transpiring.
– Unnecessary characters. I don’t want to say these characters were pointless, so I will instead just call them throwaway for the plot that literally progresses without them sometimes. These are seen through the eyes of The Manticore (Played by Octavia Spencer) and Colt Bronco (Played by Mel Rodriguez), two characters submersed in the story without a clearly distinct direction between them to make them appealing or necessary to this particular plot. For the latter, it’s this first act transformation that comes after the brothers awaken something inside of her that had since been buried by consumerism and sociological evolution. What’s confusing is after this scene, the movie doesn’t know what to do with her, teaming her with Dreyfus’ mother character, reverting her back to type instead of equaling her on the boys’ leg of the journey. For Colt, he’s entirely one-dimensional, in that he’s nothing more than the corny stepdad character, who the boys don’t take kindly too, in fear of him replacing their father. Both of these character strangely disappear during the climax of the movie, and could’ve both been left absent from the finished script, and had the movie lose nothing for all of its absolving of both of them.
– Exposition-heavy first act. I can understand conveying information of this freshly innovative world to the audience, but the weakness of the movie is easily in the opening half hour, where insubstantial dialogue is virtually inescapable, and the deposit goes overboard in smothering what should be the emotional set-up. This is the only area of the film where the dialogue doesn’t materialize naturally, and the obvious intention of incorporating a series of ideas that will inevitably show up somewhere in the film feels desperate. It’s not only great that every single area of explanation does eventually show up, but that we the audience were somehow treated to understanding such moments long before we knew they were coming.
My Grade 7/10 or B