Is it just me, or has this latest Pixar release surfaced with absolutely no fanfare whatsoever? When I say I had absolutely no idea what I was in for with Onward, I mean I hadn’t even seen a trailer, I’d barely seen a poster, and until I was physically at the cinema, I thought there was an S on the end of the film’s title! Note to self, must try to be more informed on cinema because, well, you know, runs cinema blog! That being said, Pixar rarely lets me down, so I felt comfortable going into this one totally blind.
Set in a former fantasy land where the the onset of technology has seen mysticism decline, Onward tells the story of Ian and Barley Lightfoot (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), two elfin brothers who rediscover some of their family magic and embark on a 24 hour adventure to cast a spell that might allow them to spend one last day with their long deceased father.
I’ve managed to quite succinctly package the plot for you there, but whilst watching there is a sense, in the first third of the film at least, that the thing is rather convoluted and unnecessarily ‘full’. Something that Pixar has always been good at is creating lasting, iconic stories with nice clean structures (your toys come to life, there’s a little robot that cleans up the earth, this rat loves to cook etc.), and in comparison the building blocks and set up of Onward feel distinctly busy and overly complicated.
However, as Pixar tends to do even in their B-grade pictures, they really turn this one around, so much so that by the end I was probably weeping just as much, if not more, than with something like the wonderful Coco. Onward is not my favourite offering aesthetically from the famous studio, but in terms of themes that are sure to resonate with me every single time, it hits the nail right on the head after a rocky beginning. If you find any kind of emotional resonance in parental and/or sibling relationships, then this will have your heart swelling in no time at all.
The film scoots close to the danger of a more formulaic kind of kid’s adventure movie in some of its middle ‘road trip’ sequences, but I’m the kind of girl who can forgive a shaky start if things are finished off right, and the ending of Onward goes in directions that I didn’t even anticipate. It’s not often that I can say a children’s film takes me by surprise with its plot details! That signature Pixar magic really shines through at the end.
Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are very much in their respective wheelhouses as Ian and Barley Lightfoot, two brothers who, whilst clearly very connected, couldn’t be more different at the start. Holland infuses a little of his Peter Parker bashfulness and ‘dweebiness’ as Ian, a sweet and sensitive boy full of sadness about the father who died before he was even born, whilst Pratt’s Barley is a big, boisterous, unafraid of anything older sibling who seems to fumble his way to the right answer every time, very Peter Quill-esque! It’s always hard to really critique performances in an animated movie, but as far as casting goes, these two feel really perfect for their roles.
Supporting cast names include the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Tracey Ullman, all of whom have their individual moments to shine. Special mention also to Lena Waithe voicing Specter the cyclops police officer who, I think, marks the first overtly LGTBQ+ in a Disney film. Some may want to give Josh Gad’s LeFou in 2017’s Beauty And The Beast that honour, but as I said in my review at the time, I refute the celebration of LeFou as an ‘openly gay character’ when the bulk of his punchlines pertain to the fact that he is closeted.
Overall, I’d have to say that whilst Onward certainly isn’t the very best and most iconic that Pixar can offer, it’s still going to be a level or two above the majority of kid’s movies that will role out this year. Shout out to Brandi Carlile for a really great ending credits song, I hope it can carry its momentum all the way through to awards season. Onward deserves a place at the table not for its underwhelming visuals, but for its full heart and for moments in the climax that I really didn’t see coming and that had me weeping, AGAIN, at 30 years old, to a Disney project. Will they ever let me rest?