Onward is a movie that you think you have seen before. It has every hallmark you would expect from a children’s animated film. What is completely unexpected is the emotional weight of a truly human experience. After 15 years and 22 films, I really should not be surprised that Pixar continues to find ways to make me cry.
Following up Monsters University, director Dan Scanlon brings his creative storytelling to a new level. Having been a part of Pixar’s senior creative team for years, helping bring films like Coco and Toy Story 4 to fruition, Scanlon has brought that knowledge and confidence to the story. That reputation of excellence is not in danger of being breached here, the full Pixar spirit is breathing in this story.
The story, about two brothers who are on a race against time to find magic in a world that has moved on for the sake of convenience. What could have been cliché ridden adventure is turned on its head, thanks to the fresh take on the genre. There are plenty of tales from Middle Earth and the realms of Westeros, but putting the audience into the world as a participant by the investment into the quest, and not just as a viewer adds all the fun. Throw in Dungeons & Dragons and a bit of Indiana Jones and you have an unforgettable adventure.
Tackling a story that is self-aware and silly, set in a magical land with elves and dragons, but also heavy and incredibly relatable is no small feat and would not have hit home without a stellar voice cast. Led by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer in supporting roles. The emotional beats of the story may fall flat with a lesser group, but they are all great.
Family is a touchstone in just about all of Disney and Pixar’s films, we have seen fathers and sons, whole families, and just sisters. What we get to see now are brothers, but not just brothers, but young men coming into their own. Emotionally complex dudes showing that it’s okay to have insecurities and that it’s okay to hug your brother. There is no need to be macho or to compensate. The opposite of toxic masculinity, supportive and caring young men watching out for each other. I am more than happy to watch this with my son.
4 out of 5