Director Dan Scanlon
Screenplay Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin
Starring (voices) Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey DeLisle, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama, John Ratzenberger
We’ve long past reached the point where the name Pixar means instant success. They haven’t had a bonafide classic since releasing Inside Out, and most of their releases since Toy Story 3 have been just okay. The innovation one used to rightly expect through the first 10 films has been replaced with hitting the intersectional boxes. The films aren’t as bad as one rightly would expect in a world where there are sequels to crapfests like Trolls, Cats and Dogs and even Despicable Me. Still, they no longer are appointment viewing. The weekend this was released, I saw The Way Back. The next weekend, Vin Diesel’s Bloodshot. I might have caught it after that, were it not for Corona Covoid-19.
The premise is troubling, to start. It’s a world of fantastic beings, without the magic with which they are associated. Young Ian Lightfoot (Holland) is a shy teenage Elf who just turned 16. He’s got a mother (Louis-Dreyfus) and older brother Barley (Pratt). He’s never known his father, who died while he was in the womb. His brother is a pre-diabetic fantasy game expert with a really cool (for him) van he calls Guinevere, which has a fantastic Pegasus on it. He’s a bit of a loser, not afraid of anything, except moving out of Mom’s house.
They both get access to dad’s magical sceptre because of Ian turning 16. They discover a spell that the father left them, to bring him back for a day. It works halfway. Unfortunately it’s the bottom half. Barley decides they can bring back the other half before the end of the day. To do so, they need to go on a quest.
At its best, Onward is a sweet story with about 4 moments that are actually pleasantly surprising. The characters of Ian and Barley (stupid name) work well in contrast. The rest of their world is pleasant enough and there are no antagonists, other than the situation. That much works well.
The idea of a world of Elves, Centaurs, Manticores, fairies, etc, mixing as if all are the same and never coming up with any discernible variations or mixes theirin is weird on its face. It’s not that I am against inter fantastical breeding, its just I find most of these beings kind of boring.
Making sure there is room in a plot for an accepted part of the group being someone of special needs actually is pretty cool. It’s something that few storytellers do well. Making sure we know the female police officer is likely a lesbian is probably not as necessary to express.
Such is the challenge in making family films to appeal to families of all types. Where they succeed is in the inclusion part. Where they fail is in the sexual preference part. Not necessary in a family film. For the SJW out there, I am sure the horse has left the barn after the cart. For the rest of us, it’s annoying.
The animation is superior. There is never a dull bit of scenery on the screen. Holland and Pratt play their parts willingly and without irony. The supporting players are nice, especially Mel Rodriguez’ Colt Bronco. His centaur police officer and Mom’s new boyfriend is as delightful as Rodriguez’ work on The Last Man on Earth and Better Call Saul.
In all, this is a good, not great film by a studio that’s in the sophomore slump. They could hit a winner out more often, if they weren’t concentrating on getting everyone to first base.
(***1/2 out of *****)