Onward (2020) – Review

Onward ventures into theaters on March 6.

By Noam A.

In a world not too different from our own, magic has faded to the ease of technology. Now, an unruly twosome, motivated by a loss in their past must go on a great quest to reignite the magic and learn how to understand each other along the way.

That’s actually the plot of Netflix’s Bright, a Will Smith star vehicle that bombed with critics a few years back. Funnily enough, Pixar’s Onward has pretty much the same plot synopsis of fantasy and family elements of Netflix’s buddy-cop blunder. The difference being that Onward is a great movie.

Admittedly, it’s hard to walk into a Pixar movie expecting it to be bad. When’s the last time a Pixar movie has been bad? (Well, Cars 3.) But Onward might be the studio’s greatest work in a while. This movie continues Pixar’s strong tradition of tugging on your heartstrings.

Two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, go on a journey to discover if there is “still a little magic” left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him. On Ian’s 16th birthday, he receives a pre-organized gift from his father who died before he was born – a magic staff that carries with it the promise of bringing him back to life for 24 hours so they can finally meet.

It’s been three years since Coco, Pixar’s last original film, so I was worried that some of their trademarked magic may have gone. Thankfully, Onward is one of Pixar’s most charming stories and will have you hooked from the very start. Tom Holland’s flustered Ian and Chris Pratt’s goofy Barley have a great dynamic that carries the movie in places the plot may lag a bit. The chemistry between Ian and Barley is what really sells the movie and that shines through because of the performances by Holland and Pratt. They are genuine and believable as brothers, which was surely helped by the fact that they each worked together on Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.

Octavia Spencer’s Corey steals every scene she’s in, voicing a part lion, part scorpion, part eagle creature called a manticore who runs a once humble tavern that’s become a commercialized fast food restaurant. Julia Louis-Dreyfus also gives an outstanding performance as Ian and Barley’s mother, Laurel. The cast is just really well rounded!

Like most Pixar movies, the best jokes come in the details in this world where dragons are pets, cyclopses run aerobic classes, and fast-food joints advertise “serving 2nd breakfast”. The brother’s quest to complete the spell leads them on an adventure that would fit perfectly into any Dungeons and Dragons campaign, even though their trek includes updated twists, like biker gangs and gasoline shortage. Pixar hasn’t given us a world like this before, and they aced it. The filmmakers take fantasy cliches and manage to subvert them by placing the story in the suburbs.

Onward, like Pixar’s previous work, is an amazing tale with emotion and characters that are sure to become as iconic as Woody or Mike Wazowkski. The story and the worldbuilding are fascinating, and it brings me hope that Pixar may go back to telling phenomenal original stories instead of sequels.

I give Onward an A.

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