‘Onward’ film review
By Craig Allan, Staff Writer
25 years after changing animated films forever with Toy Story, Pixar is still producing some of the most seminal and thought-provoking films of all time. This streak continues with the magical adventure of Onward. The film is about two elf brothers in search of a stone that will resurrect their dead father for one last day together. The film is beautifully shot and contains tear-jerking moments—an aspect of storytelling that Pixar has excelled at throughout its history. Yet, since the company has produced such high quality movies for over a quarter of a century, Onward doesn’t quite measure up to the same lofty heights.
Before reviewing the film, here comes a mini review of a short before the film. The short is a sequel to the 2013 Simpsons short called “The Longest Daycare” which features the silent pacifier sucker Maggie Simpson. In this short called “Playdate with Destiny,” Maggie is smitten for a boy at the playground, but due to Homer’s unwillingness to take her to the same playground, Maggie is left frustrated in her attempts to reconnect with her far-off love. The short, which contains no dialogue, was made to celebrate Disney’s acquisition of The Simpsons through their purchase of 20th Century Fox last year. While the short was fine, inoffensive, and fun it was also surreal to see the often raunchy Simpsons fit into the family friendly realm of a Pixar film. Also, I will never be comfortable with the integration of The Simpsons into Disney. Even the Mickey Mouse in the Gracie Films logo for this short is unsettling. Three and a half stars for the short.
Onward to the feature, this movie exists in a world where magic, of which only a few can master, has been sidelined by society in favour of creating easier alternatives like electric light bulbs and cars. Ian and Barley are two elf brothers who find out that their father left them a wizard staff with a spell that can bring him back for one day. Ian is the only one who can summon magic to bring their father back so he, Barley, and the conjured bottom half of their father must go on a quest to retrieve a stone that can complete the spell to bring their dad back in full before the 24-hour spell is up.
The film is emotional and touching—specifically when Ian realizes that his relationship with his brother is the relationship he always wanted with his father. The film does a great job at mixing real life technologies like cars and family restaurants with fairies and dragons to make up this world inspired by fantasy. What prevents this film from being in the same pantheon of other Pixar greats is that the characters outside of Ian and Barley are not as well developed as they should have been. Additionally, the conclusion of the film—while satisfying for the characters—leaves audiences a little empty. One specific gripe is the story arc of Ian. Throughout the film, Ian is told that in order to be successful at wielding the wizard staff, he must perform spells with his heart. His lack of heart is apparently what gets in his way. However, the film also shows that Ian has a confidence issue, and Ian learning how to overcome this flaw would have been a much more interesting and relatable story to tell.
Onward is an odd movie to rate. If this was released by any other studio, it would be unquestionably heralded as great. But, because it’s coming from a studio that has produced so many classic films, it does pale in comparison to the best of the company—like Monsters Inc. and Inside Out. For that reason, it only falls into the middle of the pack in all the Pixar offerings. That is still good enough to warrant four out of five stars though.