Pixar wows again with the strangest premise yet: two brothers in a fantasy setting who will stop at nothing to bring back their father for 24 hours. Onward is the most alike to a Disney Animation Studios picture that Pixar has made, but not entirely to its detriment. Before we dive into the strangely familiar addition to this studio’s canon, here is a brief recap:
Ian and his older brother Barley are two elven teenagers in a suburban version of your average fantasy world– elves, manticores and unicorns live all in the same tristate area. On Ian’s 16th birthday, his mother gives the brothers a spell that will bring their long-deceased father back for 24 hours. After lots of failed attempts on Barley’s part, Ian successfully starts the spell, but it breaks mid-way with only half-a-dad.
Barley instructs with his historical knowledge that only a magic crystal can finish the spell. The boys set out on an adventure to find the crystal without telling their mother, going as north as the map can carry them. From gang-fights to police chases, they end up back in their suburban town where the crystal was waiting all along. Barley gets to say goodbye to their father while Ian fights off a dragon. Everybody lives and the daddy issues are vanquished by two mighty, young warriors.
Now this plot is much different than most other Pixar movies, but the formula is quite the same. They’re master storytellers, and even without an airtight script– and this script certainly couldn’t hold water for long– they can make a plot compelling. The relationship between the brothers is very fun and emotionally gratifying, especially as it grows over the movie’s duration, but the attachment to their father despite never having met him feels overdrawn (and frankly a bit strange).
The visuals are absolutely gorgeous in this film. Pixar is building off of the technical accomplishments of Toy Story 4, but with a refreshing originality. Being able to view the world on a grander scale in this picture, we can see that the landscapes rival that of Frozen II. The character animation is beautiful as always, and somehow continues to be inventive. The animators at Pixar have something that no other studio in the world does, and it shows with every feature and short film they release.
The voice performances are surprisingly sound for a cast of mostly screen actors. Most of the time I couldn’t tell that it was Tom Holland as Ian, and while Chris Pratt undeniably sounds like Chris Pratt, his voices have so much character to them, that I believed it one-hundred percent of the way through. Octavia Spencer’s character, while funny and charming, left a lot to be desired. There was a present struggle of Spencer attempting to sound like a cartoon character. Even so, this is the best example of an animated film to date with a voice-cast of screen performers.
It is worth mentioning that Dan Scanlon, the director of this film, is responsible for creating the worst Pixar franchise: Cars. His last entry to the Pixar canon, Monsters University, was also nothing to write home about– a very forgettable film. Seeing him come back with something especially original and soulful is very nice to hear, and bodes well for even the lower-tier picture releases from Pixar studios.
It’s safe for me to call this a good movie– like it is any Pixar film besides Cars 2 or Cars 3. The story, while strange and a bit unnerving, is funny and original. The visuals are stunning, and the performances do not disappoint. I completely recommend that you don’t skip Onward (you can watch it on Disney+ now). I give this heartful fantasy piece a three out of five.