If there’s one thing Disney can reliably do nowadays with Pixar films, it’s that they are stunning animated features that maintain fun and emotion which carry over into family’s hearts. Onward here is no different, creating a nostalgic-type feeling with Pixar’s own cemented legacy to continue crowd-pleasing results.
All the Pixar films (with the exception of Cars 2) understand how to properly relate to an audience, as they create wholly original films that give everyone something to play around with. New characters and worlds evolve with us, such as a family of superheroes attempting to maintain their composure in a growing human word (The Incredibles), a trash-filled planet worked on by robots with overweight humans dwindling off on a ship in space (WALL-E) or a monster-filled world that attempts to get scares out of kids to power their city (Monsters Inc.).
In this feature, we are introduced to a world that used to be rundown by magical creatures such as unicorns, trolls and dragons. Unfortunately, the immediate progression of light-bulbs or microwaves has extinguished any need for said fantasies to exist. The main setting, New Mushroomton, represents the typical city life of highways and suburbs, and the magical creatures have become accustomed to this environment. This film is visually odd-looking with blue, pointed-ear elves at the center of attention. Then again, the same could be said for having walking-and-talking toys in the Toy Story franchise.
We are introduced to main family in this film, the Lightfoots. Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) turns 16, and is struggling with the normal teenager problems such as socialization and having any type of confidence. It’s a bold move for him to be like his father (Bryan Cranston), who had passed away just before Ian was born. When he writes down, “Be more like Dad”, it bothers him that he has to spend most of the film trying to reach his deceased parent’s expectations. He lives with his mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), with the latter accompanying him on an adventure to find an orange crystal to restore their father (as Ian could only restore his bottom half and they have 24 hours left to completely fix his appearance).
Basically, you have two teenagers running on a quest with a pair of legs and a staff. It is hilarious for what scenarios they can get the father in such as being pulled over and looking intoxicated or dancing around and falling over. The Weekend at Bernie’s effect comes to mind subtly. Oh, and you also have the mother jumping around to find them with her centaur boyfriend police officer Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez) and an overdramatic manticore (Octavia Spencer). Just as if you thought this film wasn’t borrowing anyone from Percy Jackson.
In the series of turmoil that occurs throughout the film, it’s basic premise really just comes down to brotherly love. Director Dan Scanlon has this film wrestle with the notion of adulthood, a change of pace from the childhood experience that permeates most Pixar films such as Toy Story’s obsession with trying to have the toys be there for the kids or Up having a senior run around with a child explorer to find his dream destination. The film moves around to allow both Ian and Barley to share time together, remembering they are doing it for their father. Ian becomes more courageous and Barley wants to prove that he can do something right for once. Pratt and Holland show their fun chemistry here, just like they have with their respective hero roles in Marvel Studio’s Avengers franchise.
It’s a film that succeeds in fulfilling a journey, not leaving it to pander out for an unnecessary sequel. Pixar has shown that less is more, and tacking on sequels just like in the Cars franchise can be a risky or damaging move to this franchise’s reputation. When considered with a great amount of time and effort, then a sequel will be hotly anticipated and work well for the audience as the Incredibles 2 and Finding Dory can attest to. In short, the company has another winner on its hands with Onward.
It’s not as powerful as some of Pixar’s classics such as Toy Story 3 or Up, but it remains true to its roots with a stylistic narrative that is an original since Coco in 2017. Bring some tissues if you can, as the brotherly love (or semi-lack of a father figure) may be too much for one to handle.