Be warned, brave traveler, there are spoilers ahead!
When I first heard about Pixar’s newest flick, “Onward”, the concept seemed exciting to me. I personally love weird sci-fi and fantasy interpretations, and at first, “Onward” seemed like the film for me. However, the more I read up on it, and the more trailers that came out, I started to feel uninterested. For me, it didn’t seem to have the look and feel of a Pixar film. It seemed more like a traditional Disney movie instead. However, the people I talked to who saw the movie (either in theaters when it first came out or online) said that they loved it and they cried.
The story takes place in a fantasy world occupied by elves, goblins, unicorns, anything you’d find when browsing through the vintage fantasy section in The Book Exchange. Right off the bat, the animation was some of Pixar’s finest. You have incredible detail in every frame of the movie, from the hairs on the characters head to the grass and the trees. Another factor that really makes the story shine is the world building. There was so much backstory to the land and the magical lore, it felt like a new and fresh take on both the traditional Pixar story and the fantasy genre itself, especially factoring in that technology was integrated into this world.
The story starts on the morning of our main character’s sixteenth birthday, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland). He has always heard stories of his father from his older brother, Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt), and from his mom since he never had any memories of him. Ian spends his birthday trying to be like his dad, who everyone says was always brave (however, people also said that he wasn’t courageous). After a disastrous day at school, his mom shows him and his brother a wizard’s staff, which includes a spell that can bring people back to life for one whole day.
After unsuccessfully trying the spell and only getting half of their father back, the brothers decide to go on a quest to find a way to bring all of him back, not just his legs. What follows is a quest of episodic obstacles, including a manticore who has lost her way, biker fairies, and a centaur cop who would rather drive a car than run after the brothers. All while trying to get a particular gem that can give them the rest of their father so they can have their one day with him. This was accompanied by a lot of sibling quarrels and a fun subplot of their mom teaming up with said manticore to save them from a curse.
One of the awkward parts of the film was the fact that it would take breaks throughout the story to have the characters explain the lore of the magic or backstory of one of the other characters. These jolts distracted me from the story, and there were times where I felt like I had to take notes just to remember it all. While I love learning the lore of a story, it was a lot to wrap my head around.
(SPOILER WARNING, LAST CHANCE)
However, my opinions of the film changed during the last thirty minutes of this film, where Ian sits down and begins to cross the things he wanted to do with his dad off his list. He begins to realize that during this journey, all the things he wanted to do with his dad he did with his brother (learning to drive, sharing a laugh, having a heart to heart, etc.). Ian goes back to reconcile with his brother, but only after Barley accidentally ignites the curse. The brothers, their mom, and even the manticore now have to battle a stone dragon in what was a fantastic fight scene.
Siblings and sibling love was a huge theme, and as an only child, I couldn’t quite relate to it. After talking with a friend of mine who has two older brothers, however, I began to understand the central message of the movie, of loving your family and appreciating every moment with them. While I didn’t cry those Pixar tears (almost did), I did feel those Pixar feelings.
The film felt like someone’s wild Dungeons and Dragons campaign, where you really wanted to play and control the characters, but didn’t want to interrupt what was already going on. While there were points I didn’t get or felt off-putting from the story, there were still times I was on the edge of my seat or gasping in surprise.
I’d give “Onward” a solid 7/10. It was a fun film to escape to for a while with everything else going on. One of the good things about watching this film at home instead of a movie theater is, while I do love the experience of seeing a movie with a crowd, I could yell at my TV in peace.