‘Onward’ is directed by Dan Scanlon and centers around a personal story about two brothers who after discovering a way to bring their dad back from the dead, will have to conquer their fears and embark on a magical journey to try and see their father. The younger brother Ian (played by Tom Holland) has never met his dad. He’s quite a nervous kid that truly just wants to be accepted and be able to face his fears. He’s consistently and maybe embarrassingly so supported by his older brother Barley (played by Chris Pratt) who is obsessed with the old days of magic, where the people from their world used magic to evolve and grow, decided to switch to more convenient options. Pixar has dipped their feet into the magical realm but it this they go all out, in this Speilberg-esque family adventure that I had a good time watching!
First of the chemistry between our main characters is fantastic. I think Tom Holland and Chris Pratt both give great performances and work well together. Their back and forth reminded me a lot of Colin Hanks and Jack Black in ‘Orange County’, where the older brother is kinda looked at as a failure, possibly a little dim-witted albeit genuinely sincere. His younger brother loves him but the issue in the relationship is in how they avoid how they are actually feeling towards each other. That compacted with the seriously compelling story of both of these brothers trying to bring back their dad makes ‘Onward’ a recipe for ‘tearsticle kicking’ a term I’ve coined since seeing Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’. Yes, Pixar again kicks you in the ‘tearsticles’ but rather than choosing to do it in a way that might be more manipulative than anything, ‘Onward’ earns every tear-jerking moment. Not to say there isn’t some comedy, because both Pratt and Holland are able to keep it light and fun throughout, as well as supporting characters played by Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Ali Wong.
As said earlier, this film has a serious ‘Speilberg’ vibe, from how the parents are involved in the adventure, the funny moments, the strong family themes. There’s even some fun to be had with the father’s character in the film, with some “Weekend at Bernies” vibes and comedy elements that worked well. The fantasy aspect of the film is used in a way that I liked, kinda pointing out that people choose convenience over doing things the hard way. It’s a good idea to follow however isn’t really explored too much in this film. It also kinda gives ‘Onward’ a fundamental flaw to me that the characters just “chose” to stop using magic in any way. In a world where vinyl is selling more than cd’s, I disagree with the premise that a whole society would just stop using magic because it was too difficult to do.
Overall, ‘Onward’ isn’t the top tier Pixar films that will be up there with the likes of “Toy Story”, “Monsters inc.”, or “Up”, but it certainly is better than their attempts at sequels. I would strongly recommend this to Pixar fans, it’s good that they are moving forward with original ideas like ‘Onward’ and something that should be reflected in the box office. With strong performances throughout and earned emotional moments and fun throughout, ‘Onward’ is the first really good outing for 2020’s animated feature season.