Pixar has brought us some amazing films, like Toy Story, WALL-E, The Incredibles, Inside Out, and Coco. But for every Finding Nemo, there might be The Good Dinosaur.
If you’re not catching my vibe, I’m saying that a Pixar film is not a guarantee of an amazing movie. You’ll never go wrong with the animation but sometimes the story doesn’t measure up to some of the films that have emotional magnitude. The Good Dinosaur was the perfect example of a Pixar film with incredible visuals but a story that just didn’t work.
So when I sit to watch any Pixar film, I have the highest hopes but also realize that not every film can be epic. And I’m sorry to say that Onward is just not epic.
It’s a nice film. It has a nice story with some nice characters and a nice message. You’ll walking out feeling like you just saw a nice movie. And then you’ll probably forget about it.
That’s the true tragedy. Pixar films take, on average, five years to bring to the screen from conception to production. When a film doesn’t wow you, you know that you’re critiquing five years of work. And I don’t take that lightly.
Onward is the story of two brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (played respectively by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), who discover on Ian’s 16th birthday that their long departed father left them a bit of magic so that they can spend one day with him. While Ian attempts to use the magic spell, something goes awry and they are only able to bring back their dad’s lower half.
The rest of the movie is a quest to find more magic and finish the spell before the day is over. And it didn’t really work for me.
Here’s why it fell a little flat.
The world just isn’t that compelling.
This is a world that’s been reimagined without humans. It’s full of creatures like elves and unicorns and centaurs and manticores (still not sure if that’s a mythical creature or a species) living in a magical world. And these creatures become complacent. They get bored with magic and it gets relegated to the stuff of legends.
But this world is pretty much like the human world. Chain restaurants, high school, houses, cars, cops, exercise videos, etc. Just replace the humans with elves and centaurs and the like.
By keeping the familiar aspects of life, it grounds the story but it also makes us wonder why we needed elves to tell this story in the first place.
The story elements are a little heavy.
I don’t need Pixar Lite. I’m okay if Bing Bong dies or Andy gives all his toys away (but really, were any of us okay?). These are emotional moments that create a turning point in a story. You’ll have that moment in Onward too but not before you’re brought down by Ian Lightfoot.
Ian and Barley have great chemistry and this is ultimately a buddy pic. But Ian doesn’t have confidence. He can’t make friends. And he’s generally a pretty unhappy character. He’s definitely set up for emotional growth but it takes patience to see the payoff.
Also, it’s a little tough to watch the brothers constantly relive the pain of losing their father 16 years earlier.
It was lacking in originality.
When the movie was over, I turned to my son and we both agreed that this felt like a Zootopia/Harry Potter mash up. Throw in some elements of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as Jack Black in almost anything (especially Orange County or School of Rock) and call it a movie.
If I’m really stretching, I could even see a bit of Trollhunters and Big Hero 6 in there. You get my point. Every movie certainly borrows from others but we expect originality to the extreme with Pixar.
There’s no big payoff.
Well, yes there is. But probably not the one you want. I won’t spoil it for you but if we have to endure the emotional trauma and the quest, I want the payoff. It just felt unsatisfying for me. And frankly, it was annoying to watch a pair of pants walk around through most of the film.
But it had a few moments of brilliance.
Some of my favorite moments include the Manticore’s Tavern, what becomes of Barley’s van, the creation of the final dragon, and where the title “Onward” actually comes from. And there’s humor but you won’t be laughing out loud like you might expect.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s a nice film. You will probably feel good at the end of the film. But you won’t remember much about it the next day.
One final note for Disney/Pixar: You’re inclusive. We get it. But please don’t shove it in our faces. It makes you look cheap.
Be sure to check out all my Real Movies Reviews for Real Moviegoers.