NEW MUSHROOMTON — By now, you’re probably familiar with Pixar’s usual bag of tricks: A creative premise, some goofy slapstick humor, and beautiful animation.
Oh yeah — and that part where you bawl your eyes out uncontrollably.
While “Coco” in 2017 was an original film, the last few years have seen Pixar mostly making sequels. In 2020, they’ll release two new, original films, including the Jamie Foxx-starring “Soul” in June.
A clever take on the “technology is taking over the world” idea sets up the premise of "Onward": Many mythical creatures coexist in the land, where magic was once prominent and used for daily tasks.
Magic was hard to master, though, and once the people in the land discovered electricity, most took that much easier route of living. Now, magic is mostly a lost art and is rarely used.
When the brothers discover that using magic might give them a chance to reconnect with their dead father, they set out on a quest to rediscover the lost art.
Here’s a few reasons why “Onward” is perfectly fine movie fare, but is far from Pixar’s best.
Chris Pratt steals the show
Pratt is generally considered one of the more charismatic actors in Hollywood today. He brings that patented charm to the board game-obsessed fantasy geek Barley.
Pratt makes Barley an instantly memorable character, and he steals the show for much of the film. There’s a certain Andy Dwyer-ness to Barley: Always endearing, sometimes buffoonish, wildly enthusiastic.
He makes a nice foil to Holland’s more timid and shy Ian. The two share some truly touching moments as the main characters and they play well off of each other.
When the story strays from Barley and Ian, though, it gets much less interesting.
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss plays the brothers’ mom who has her own side adventure with a manticore the characters happen to encounter, played by Octavia Spencer. Every time they were on screen, it felt like an unnecessary, forced distraction from the main story.
The animation is gorgeous
This pretty much goes without saying for a Pixar film, but the animation seen here is beautiful.
Director Dan Scanlon filled the film with all types of mythical creatures, wild beasts and fantastic landscapes. The world of “Onward” is lush, diverse and constantly visually dazzling.
The world-class animation allows Scanlon’s film to be both whimsical (the Lightfoots have a knee-height dragon as a pet instead of a dog) and fully fleshed-out as a post-magical alternate fantasy world.
It overstays its welcome
The action climax of “Onward” is both a thriller and a tearjerker as the characters desperately try to achieve their goals before it’s too late.
But after the film’s poignant height, a tacked-on epilogue shows how the characters are faring after a small time-jump. It felt unnecessary and diminished the impact of those earlier climactic scenes.
Maybe the filmmakers thought ending it without the epilogue would have been too abrupt. While that may be true, the final scenes felt out of place to me.
Is it worth watching?
While this isn’t quite up to par with Pixar’s best films, such as “Toy Story 2,” “Wall-E” and “Inside Out,” fans of the studio will definitely find something to like with “Onward.”
The film’s clear message of sibling love and respect is one I think will resonate with kids.
It should show them something about loving and respecting their siblings, even if they think their brother or sister is annoying sometimes (let’s face it, we’ve all been there).
I’m an older brother in a pair that is somewhat similar to Ian and Barley, and there were some parts of this movie that definitely hit home for me. It’s a film that kids will enjoy and parents will find valuable.
“Onward” is rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements.