Pixar’s latest – A surprise to be sure, but a welcomed one
Onward (2020) is the story of two elf brothers who embark on a magical journey in a world now lacking magic and wonder. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed this film due to the low expectations I had going in, and wasn’t sure exactly what Pixar was going to deliver with its latest film. What followed, however, was a surprise to be sure but a welcomed one.
The world presented is one viewers shall be quite familiar with, full of entities found in modern suburbia and mirroring our society today. Entangled with this setting are elements of fantasy and magic. The viewer is introduced to this at the film’s beginning with a prologue outlining the magical history and how it slowly disappeared as technology evolved. This world is inhabited by many magical creatures, from stray unicorns to pet dragons, that all enhance the film’s enjoyment and wonder. This intertwining also sets the tone for the adventure to come.
The characters in this film are wonderfully created, beginning at the top billed co-stars Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Endgame) and Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World). Holland and Pratt’s Ian and Barley Lightfoot are the heart and soul of the film. Their real-life chemistry shines tremendously in this film as their characters embark on the film’s adventure and are the primary focus of its plot arc. Holland’s Ian draws many similarities to his adaptation of Peter Parker, particularly his struggle to fit in and learn who he is meant to be, something viewers can definitely resonate with. The nature of the character also relates similarly to Harry Potter in this way. Pratt’s Barley is full of comic relief and good intentions, relating very closely to his real-life persona. Supporting characters are also very well performed in this film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld, A Bug’s Life) does a great job in playing the brothers’ mother Laurel in her first Pixar film in 22 years. Octavia Spencer’s (The Help) performance as Manticore also stands out and deserves to be acknowledged.
Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) delivers with a film based on aspects of his own life. While the story may not be original in all aspects on its surface, it’s layered in a unique way through world-building and themes that provide an immensely enjoyable film-going experience. I felt the story to also be one of Pixar’s most emotional films, having an ending that pulls at your heartstrings in ways very similar to the end of Coco and Toy Story 3. A strong score also helps amplify the film, adding further emotion and intensity when needed. The pacing of the film appears to be off in the first act but hits the ground running when the adventure begins, allowing there never to be a dull moment. This film is also genuinely funny, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments throughout its duration.
I felt the underlying themes of the film were its most significant and important element. Death and loss are an important part of this film. Scanlon said he set out to answer a question that had plagued him most of my life, “who was my father?”, and did an excellent job demonstrating his own rendition of the answer through the film. Ian sets out on his adventure and learns more about his father along the way, which also helps him find comfort in his father’s absence throughout his life.
This film also deals with the idea of finding one’s own identity. Ian’s character struggles with this for the majority of the film and it is something we can all resonate with. The film succeeds in its portrayal of this and Tom Holland wonderfully brings it to life. Finally, the film provides a social commentary on the negative results of technological evolution over time. Characters in the film’s world became disconnected with their past and setting in ways human beings in today’s society do. This is especially emphasized through the laziness depicted and the necessity of technology.
Onward (2020) may not be Pixar’s next masterpiece but it doesn’t have to be. The film succeeds in bringing an exciting story and world to life, with characters and themes viewers can resonate with. I was happily blown away with how much I enjoyed this film and loved the roller coaster experience it brought me on. I can’t wait to see it again and you should too.
Rating – 8.5/10
Onward hits theatres on March 6, 2020