“Onward is stale, despite some fantastic moments.”
Pixar is its own greatest enemy. With a rich and phenomenal history of movies since 1995’s Toy Story through Wall-E and Up, the cinematic bar was already at a high standard and it continued to grow and raise with each film. The storytelling, iconic characters, and wonderful messages and themes of growth, friendship, and love have excellent enlightenment and meaning for people of all ages. With the Dungeons & Dragons themed Onward, the overall feel is stale, despite some fantastic moments.
In the trailer for the film, it lays out the story about two brothers who are trying to spend one day with their deceased father via an ancient magic spell before it wears off and he’s gone forever. This looks good on paper, but when projected on the big screen, it lost that sense of charm and well – magic. Instead, Onward is riddled with slapstick sequences and uneventful close calls that leave all the suspense and tension trapped in a dark cave. The film plays it too safe for its own good and never allows itself to be bold or risk something special as Toy Story 3 did.
Onward follows two teenage brothers, the shy, awkward younger Ian (Tom Holland) and the older, bold, heavyset, and outgoing Barley (Chris Pratt) who live with their mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). The brother’s dad passed away when both were barely young to remember, but on Ian’s birthday, their mother gives them a gift from their father, which is a wizard staff that casts a spell to bring him back for 24 hours. Unfortunately, something goes wrong and only the bottom half of dear old dad appears and the two must find a precious stone to bring back the rest of him before it’s too late. Again, all of this was in the trailer.
The rest of the film plays out like a road trip comedy as the two siblings embark on a Dungeons & Dragons-style quest where they cross paths with many creatures in this fantasy city that has lost all knowledge and respect for their roots of magic. Unicorns don’t fly anymore but are rather similar to raccoons as they eat from the trash and the pixie/fairy species ride miniature motorcycles because they forgot how to fly. Pixar is usually stellar when it comes to side characters that pop in and out quickly. A lot of them become fan favorites, but in Onward, each character is bland and dull – even the lion scorpion lady.
The film picks up steam in its final few minutes where the two brothers who couldn’t be more opposite from one another, start to find their common interests and bonds, where their appreciation grows. It’s charming and endearing and might even tug at a couple of the heart-strings. But the rest of the film doesn’t live up to its exciting quest and lore.
The voices of Pratt and Holland are good but are nothing new or original from the projects they’ve done in the past. It’s business as usual with their characters with no fresh development. This all being said, there are some wonderful winks, nods, and jokes that will cater to the ever-growing Dungeons & Dragons crowd and the cute, small inside jokes that Pixar places in each of their films. Onward does a decent job, but with Pixar’s history, it’s hard to top what’s come before it.