Pixar Animation Studios returns their first original film since Coco, after the success and surprise of Toy Story 4 too, this film, Onward, had a lot to live up to. For the most part, it does manage it. You get the usual amount of emotional manipulation, comedy and stunning animation you’ve come to expect from the team over there, this time with an exciting setting.
Dan Scallion directs this “suburban fantasy”. It sounds odd when you read it in the official synopsis but ends up being a very apt description. If you see any piece of promotional material for the film, it is quite literally a suburban area full of fantasy characters. The backstory is that magic used to be integral to the world but was very hard to master even when a wizard teaches you. Leading to the discovery of electricity, the lightbulb and then it spiralled from there.
The magic was quite literally lost from the world, and now these magical creatures live in a world like ours except they have gnomes, mermaids, elves and centaurs. The world is easily the most fascinating thing for me in this film. It isn’t the most original idea that has ever been dreamt up. We have seen these kinds of takes on modern cities and suburbia from other Disney distributed films, looking at you Zootopia. Onwards feels much more alive, and this may be down to how close they get it to ours, the stunning animation and of course, the voice cast. The fantastical aspect is unique and the thing that sets it apart the most.
We’re led on this adventure with Ian and Barley Lightfoot played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. They are gifted a staff from their father, who passed away from what I can only imagine is some kind of elf cancer. The staff gives them the ability to bring him back for 24 hours for a catch-up and to say their goodbyes, or in Ian’s case, meet him for the first time.
Holland does his usual timid American accent you can see in the Spider-Man films when he is being Peter Parker. In contrast, Pratt does his over the top, pop culture obsessed cockiness you can see in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. This mostly works for the film, but it is amusing to me just how close to their MCU counterparts they are. Pratt’s characters have been largely the same since his Parks and Recs days and Barley is incredibly Star-Lord-Esq minus the swagger and replacing the music with Dungeons and Dragons.
Due to some complications with the spell, only the bottom half is brought back. Because of this, they must head out to find the missing piece of the spell in a world that has largely forgotten the magic. It is quite a touching, slightly cliched road-trip. I’d argue it is the most generic Pixar has gotten in recent years, Cars 2 excluded. It is a let-down, but it still tugs at your heart at the right points.
The central messaging is heart-breaking at the end, and even I thought to myself – emotional manipulation aside – that is a great way to finish this story. I won’t go into details, but in essence, your family is very important no matter the size, or who raises you, it is lovely like that.
Supporting cast members include Octavia Spencer and Julia Louis Dreyfus who have their own side-quest of sorts together, trying to rescue the boys on from their adventure. They provide some laughs but, in some cases, feels like they’re cutting to them at the worst possible moments. They are taking the film to a bit of a halt story-wise even if they can provide a lot of laughs.
Onward isn’t Pixar’s best, but it certainly isn’t their worst. They have a story on their hands that will mean a lot to a lot of people despite it being trapped in a somewhat cliché trapping for animated films. I’d say this film is worth a watch if you like this sort of thing, even just for the world it’s set in.
Onward is in UK and US cinemas now!