Onward features the vocal talents of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and Octavia Spencer and was directed by Dan Scanlon. It tells the story of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt respectively, who go on a magical quest in order to bring their father back from the dead for one day. You know, there’s just something about Pixar. I really think that they’re one of the most consistently great studios making movies today. Within the animated film world, they really stand alone – both in terms of the animation as well as the scope and impact of their stories.
Twenty-five years after the release of Toy Story, I’m at the point where I have complete faith in Pixar. That being said, the trailers for this movie just really didn’t do it for me. It’s not that uncommon for me to be underwhelmed by a Pixar trailer, but this one especially just did nothing to entice me or get me excited for this movie. But, like I said, I completely trust Pixar, so I went into this movie with a positive and open mind. As expected, Pixar doesn’t disappoint here. Onward’s certainly not top-tier Pixar, but even middle-of-the-road Pixar movies are better than the average movie out there. This film hits all of the expectations you have of a Pixar movie, but I gotta admit it felt like it was lacking something.
It’s kind of ironic, but for a movie about magic and a fantastical adventure, it didn’t quite have that usual Pixar magic. Before I get too far down this path though, I want to say that I did like this movie. I enjoyed it ñ just not as much as I enjoy most Pixar movies. Onward definitely takes a little while to get going. It really doesn’t start to hit its stride until about the halfway point, which is a little weird for Pixar cause usually they can draw me in right away. But, if I’m being totally honest here, I was very underwhelmed by the first act.
I don’t think I’ve ever used this particular adjective to describe a Pixar film before, but it felt incredibly generic. The characters were really archetypal, both in design and personality. The humor was a bit juvenile and fell kind of flat and the story played out in a very predictable fashion ñ with the exception of the legs, of course. There was some decent analogous humor with the world-building early on; things like Burger Shire and Prance Prance Revolution at the arcade. But, much of that falls by the wayside pretty quickly in favor of the magic quest roleplaying game vibe. And then we’ve got the animation. Don’t get me wrong, it looks amazing.
It’s miles better than the stuff most other studios are putting out, but for me at least, it was a noticeable step back for Pixar. Maybe it’s just cause we’re coming off of Toy Story 4 which looked phenomenal, but the animation style here just didn’t feel up to par with their more recent films. Again, not bad at all, but it just didn’t blow me away like Pixar usually does. I know this hasn’t been a particularly positive sounding review so far, but like I said, this movie does eventually turn around. While not quite as funny as some of the rest of the studio’s output, there’s a decent amount of humor, especially in the form of visual gags.
I mean, there are quite a few funny things you can do with a pair of disembodied legs walking around on a leash. So, I will say that I enjoyed much of the situational humor and running gags, especially with Shades. In fact, a few of those sequences reminded me quite a bit of a certain scene in Ratatouille, which was kind of a fun throwback, as was the homage to Andy’s mom stepping on the toy soldier in Toy Story 1. But where Onward really shines is with its emotional core. And to be honest, that’s where every Pixar film really shines. While the magic and the adventure of this story’s clearly aimed at younger teens and kids, the emotional themes hit more mature levels that can resonate with anybody.
The basic themes of sibling relationships and dealing with the death of a parent are things we’ve seen plenty of times in animated movies, but I have to say that I was impressed by how both of those themes were approached in this story. While not exactly unexpected, I do think the emotional payoff of the film far exceeds its initial set-up and ends up being pretty impactful. So, while Onward doesn’t hit all of the right notes for me, it’s gonna to resonate with a lot of people and there are gonna be some people who feel like this movie was made exactly for them. Alright let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is definitely the emotional core.
This movie’s got some heart to it, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows Pixar. And while it’s not quite the tear-jerker that some of their other films are, it’s pretty hard-hitting and there was definitely some sniffling going on around the theater by the end. It’s got some touching family moments and deals with some surprisingly mature and heavy themes in ways that you don’t usually see in movies like this.
The second pro kind of jumps off from the first one: this movie has a really satisfying payoff. Now, don’t worry. I’m not gonna give anything away or talk about spoilers, but the way this movie comes together was such a pleasant surprise after how it started. And while things do generally proceed kinda predictably, it’s still very emotionally satisfying. On the con side, the biggest issue is how generic this movie feels. Again, I really liked it, but apart from the emotional aspects, it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and definitely doesn’t stand out amongst Pixar’s other films.
The first act is a bit underwhelming and the animation and characters also feel subpar for the studio. Again, comparing this movie to just about any other studio’s animated films, it’s fantastic, but within the world of Pixar, it’s just not quite up to snuff. Before I give you my rating and recommendations, I want to remind you that if you’re interested in buying Onward or any of the other films I mentioned today, I do have affiliate links for all of them in the description below.
I get a small commission from anything you buy using one of my links, so I’d really appreciate if you’d use them if you’re in the market for any of these movies. I’m gonna give Onward 3.5 out of 5 paws. I told you I liked it. It’s a good story that’s both heartfelt and fun ñ it’s just not among Pixar’s best. But, even so, it’s still an enjoyable movie. I would recommend Onward to fans of Pixar. If you’re anything like me, you’re gonna find plenty to like about this film even if it doesn’t end up becoming one of your favorites.
Pixar’s always been able to find that kid-adult balance and this movie does have that still, but it certainly seems to be the most teen-oriented film of theirs so far. Also, I think you’ll get a little more enjoyment out of this movie if you’re into fantasy and tabletop roleplaying games and things like that cause they prominently feature in the story. If you liked Onward, I’ve obviously gotta recommend at least one Pixar movie and I think Coco might be the most thematically similar. It too involves a heavily afterlife-based story and tackles themes of grief and death in ways that stand out from what we typically see.
If you liked the brotherly relationship between Ian and Barley, you should check out Brother Bear for another magically-instigated quest-like adventure. And if you enjoyed the humor surrounding Ian and Barley’s dad ñ particularly his disguise you’ve definitely got to watch Weekend at Bernie’s for some similarly comedic shenanigans. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Onward? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s your favorite movie involving two brothers? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.