Onward is Pixar’s latest film, making it their 22nd since 1995’s Toy Story. One may think that the new decade will ignite a chronic decline in Pixar’s filmmaking quality. Luckily, Onward keeps enough magic throughout to keep Pixar’s success alive. Set in a suburban fantasy world, the film follows two elf brothers, voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland. The brothers set out on a quest to find a spell that will bring back their deceased father.
Watch It: If you’re a fan of quality Pixar films, magical visual effects, and an engaging finale.
Skip It: If you’re expecting a top-tier Pixar classic with the likes of Up, Finding Nemo, or WALL-E.
From the beginning, Onward soars to success with its visual effects. Magical spells, fire, water, and the legs of a resurrected father all look spectacular on the big screen. Like many (or all) Pixar films to date, Onward is worth seeing on the big screen for this reason alone.
For those who have read through scripts or looked into the craft of screenwriting, viewers will notice a formulaic approach. But it’s as I’ve mentioned before in previous reviews: Formulas exist for their reliable reasons. In this sense, Onward utilizes such an approach to its story with action, humor, and poignancy. Some films follow this same approach, but still feel all too schmaltzy or shallow. With Onward, it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and viewers have that to be thankful for.
Within this structure, director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) and the writers were free to give nods to other classic films. Some have seen glimpses of Harry Potter, Shrek, and Field of Dreams, to name a few. Yet for some Millennials, the Indiana Jones franchise, and specifically The Last Crusade, will come to mind most often. As a fantasy adventure, the search for a magical gem is the central plot device. In this way, some will reminisce of the daring Indy on his quest for the most prized artifact.
Much of the film plays as “fine” entertainment. Like many films, it improves within its final 30 minutes. Leading up to this, much of the comedy doesn’t quite work, despite Chris Pratt’s animated personality. It also lacks shocking and emotional moments early on, unlike classics like Up, for example. But like Pixar classics, Onward matches the same emotional level at the right moments in its last act.
Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer all shine in their voice-acting roles. The film will distract some by how well-known these stars are. Some will hear the actor’s voice come through more than the character’s. But each actor was well casted to fit the temperaments of their characters they take on.
Onward succeeds with its visuals, messages, and performances on the one hand. But it’s left wanting in areas such as the musical score and successful comedic dialogue. In only Scanlon’s second film as director, it also lacks a strong, original premise. Conversely, films may come to mind like Inside Outor Coco, in this regard. Yet with a fun quest, universal themes, and a visual feast, Onward still paves a successful path forward for Pixar.