HomeMovies'Onward' Review: A Fluffy Fantasy That Becomes a Heartfelt, Emotional Film

‘Onward’ Review: A Fluffy Fantasy That Becomes a Heartfelt, Emotional Film

Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar

In the world of animated film, we hold the works of Pixar in the highest regard. The history of the Disney affiliated company is absolutely undeniable as it has created iconic film after iconic film that have left indelible marks on the lives of so many people.

While this high regard might let some excuse the faults of sequels (we’re looking at you Incredibles 2), it also allows many to dismiss films that are not deemed “instant classics” as skippable, or lesser films.

Onward, Pixar’s latest which was released in March 2020, had its theatrical run cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The hype and heraldry for this film flew generally under the radar as the majority of the world was bracing for the current state of the quarantine and social distancing.

After viewing the film it’s fairly easy to state Onward is in no way an “instant classic.” There’s comparable to the level of the risk-taking artistry of Wall-E, or the staggering on point emotional work of Inside Out’s script, or the brilliant tight-rope act of comedy and tragedy that became the hallmark of the Toy Story franchise.

That doesn’t mean, however, that one should sleep on the film — as the film evolves from a lighthearted and at times cliched fantasy adventure, into a film with a big heart, and a few emotional turns in the final act that will absolutely leave you floored.

Onward’s central plot is basically its weakest aspect. The film finds two elf brothers, the always afraid Ian (voiced by Tom Holland), and mega-confident RPG lover Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) who are given their father’s magical staff on Ian’s 16th birthday. They accidentally cast a “visitation spell” which resurrects their deceased father for a 24 hour period. Problem is only their father’s lower half is resurrected, and the gem they used to perform the spell was shattered. So the brothers must set on a quest to find the another gem to complete the spell. Barley is convinced his knowledge of RPGs, which are based on their town’s magical history, will guide them on their quest and bring their father back in order for Ian to finally meet him.

The quest, which is leaned into hard during the first act, is fairly fun and family friendly but ultimately there’s nothing really to sink your teeth into here. It’s riddled with cliches. Interesting characters (like Octavia Spencer’s Manticore) are shuffled out as fast as they’re introduced, and everything works a little too smoothly and predictably.

Then, in the second half of the film, our heroes deviate from the path — literally and figuratively — and Onward becomes unexpectedly emotional and compelling. The writers shift the film’s emotional center from solely Ian, giving Barley a strong emotional arc. Barley morphs from blustering sidekick stoked about a quest into a trauma-filled young troll who is as emotionally invested in seeing his long-deceased father as his brother.

This plot shift injects real stakes into the brother’s race against time. The emotional journey Ian and Barley is way more thrilling to watch unfold — as it takes more thrilling and unexpected turns than anything on their actual quest.

Holland and Pratt are really the perfect duo to carry the film — as they’ve been playing versions of Ian and Barley (respectively) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the last five or so years. Yet, it’s Pratt who probably does the most interesting and essential work. Pratt is basically doing a Star-Lord meets Jack Black impersonation in the first half of the film — which works to an extent for a comic relief character. But for the film’s necessary emotional shift to work, Pratt needed to make a transition in his performance. Luckily, he channels the same honesty and sincerity we saw him imbue Emmett in LEGO Movie instead of the 2D emotion we’ve seen in his live action performances. This makes the movie work, and without it, Onward would fail miserably.

Luckily, the confluence of script and performance shifts allows for Onward to stick the landing in a joyful, thrilling, and in true Pixar tradition, tear-filled manner. It’s an ending the little ones will enjoy as much as the adults because it’s packed with big heroics, big emotion, and a lot of heart. The ending is so good that it’s hard to shake, it’s just so satisfying and brimming with relatable emotion (well for this reviewer at least).

While Onward might not be placed high in the Pixar pantheon there is no denying that this is an absolutely fun, highly rewatchable, and relatively fast-paced family film that children can put on infinite Disney Plus loop, and that parents can have fun with even on the 10th or 20th viewing.

Onward is currently streaming on Disney Plus, and VOD.

Bill Bodkin
Bill Bodkinhttps://thepopbreak.com
Bill Bodkin is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break, and most importantly a husband, and father. Ol' Graybeard writes way too much about wrestling, jam bands, Asbury Park music, HBO shows, and can often be seen under his season DJ alias, DJ Father Christmas. He is the co-host of the Socially Distanced Podcast (w/Al Mannarino) which drops weekly on Apple, Google, Anchor & Spotify. He is the co-host of the monthly podcasts -- Anchored in Asbury, TV Break and Bill vs. The MCU.

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