I’ve made it clear many times in the past that I’m a Pixar fan, but that’s not to say I’m above criticising their work. Films like Brave and The Good Dinosaur have been underwhelming and I probably won’t watch the Cars sequels. With Onward, I was worried that it would go along this route of Pixar films. The trailers didn’t really do anything for me and I got too many Bright vibes for my liking. Whilst the final film isn’t top tier Pixar or anything, it’s still a decent enough film.
The film follows Ian and Barley Lightfoot, brothers living with their mum in a fantasy world where magic has been overtaken by modern technology. Whilst their dad died when Barley was young and Ian wasn’t born, he arranged for a gift to be given to the brothers when they turned 16, a wizard’s staff and a spell to bring him back for a day. However, when Ian (who is the only one of the brothers able to use magic) isn’t able to get the spell right first time, only their dad’s bottom half is brought back so Ian and Barley have to go on a quest to find a gem to give the staff enough power to bring their dad back to life, with their mum following after them to make sure they’re safe. Now there is a problem I have with the film in that it doesn’t seem willing to fully dive into the magical world set up. Aside from a handful of moments, there isn’t really any reason why the characters are magical creatures instead of humans and the whole film feels a bit too safe. We don’t really get enough time to understand the world and leaves this element of the film feeling underdeveloped. What does work about the film though is the relationship between Ian and Barley and their feelings towards their dad. The way the film handles this element creates some powerful emotional moments, especially as the film goes on and we find out more about Barley’s relationship with his dad. This is well handled stuff and there are some great emotional moments. I do think having more of an action based climax does take away from some of the power the film has but the emotional moments do still work.
The performances are pretty solid throughout the film. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt have great vocal chemistry, giving the feeling that they recorded at least some of their lines together. They are playing to their strengths with Holland playing the more nervous and insecure Ian and Pratt the bombastic Barley and the introvert/extrovert dynamic does work. There are some changes in their relationship in the third act that feel a bit forced but this does not detract from the genuine bond that is felt. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Octavia Spencer give good performances, being more comedic, but they don’t really get the chance to fully showcase their talents, whilst Mel Rodriguez has a clear character arc set up that we never actually see him go through. There are some good comedic bits from Grey Griffin and Tracey Ullman and Kyle Bornheimer gets some great moments on the emotional side of the film.
The animation meanwhile is the high quality you come to expect from Pixar. Where the script doesn’t really go into detail on the world, there are a lot of little details in the background animation that showcase the world, from the designs of buildings to all the things shown in the Manticore’s Tavern, the animation sets up a world that the script doesn’t. The character animation is excellent as well, showcasing the different biologies of the fantasy creatures well and showing how modern technology works with traditional fantasy creatures, such as showing centaurs in cars or pixies on motorbikes. There are some good fantasy flourishes in the music and the action scenes have a good mix of modern technology and fantasy, the use of magic itself having a good degree of weight to it, showing how difficult it is to use magic.
Overall, Onward is a decent enough film that doesn’t go as far as it could in the world or the characters. When the film is focused on the relationship between Ian, Barley and their dad, then there are some great emotional heights reached. For the most part though, this felt fairly bland and it’s not going to be one of the Pixar films I go back to a lot.
My Rating: 3/5