As I settled in the cinema, I gathered all my knowledge about Pixar’s Onward as the trailer previews rolled. Here’s what I came up with: (1) it’s a whole new story about family, (2) it’s got two Marvel heroes lending their voices to the main characters, and (3) it makes a big reference to Weekend at Bernie’s. Honestly, my expectations were pretty low and I just thought it was going to be a nice feel-good movie. Boy, was I wrong.
I came in thinking this film will be like Shrek or maybe even Hotel Transylvania—and somehow, it is. It subverts notions of fantastical stories like Shrek and it’s set in a suburban modern world like the latter. However, Onward is special in its own ways. Its premise is that magic has gone obsolete as technology advanced. But magic is never truly gone—it just takes a little bit of faith.
Meet the boys
The movie follows elf brothers Barley (Chris Pratt) and his younger brother Ian (Tom Holland). The plot begins in on Ian’s 16th birthday, which is when their mother gives them a present from their late father. To their surprise (and Barley’s enjoyment), it’s a wizard staff with a spell that can bring their departed father back for one whole day.
However, something goes wrong as they cast the enchantment. They resurrect only their dad’s legs. Now, they have 24 hours to find the gem to complete the spell so they can spend as much time with their father as they can.
The two leads are polar opposites but they complement each other well. On one hand you have the awkwardly endearing Ian who can’t even make conversation with his classmates, and on the other, you have Barley who’s a loudmouth burnout who loves fantasy/tabletop games. Their dynamic is simple: they learn from each other. They’re kind of like Elsa and Anna in this way.
Its best moments
In its 112-minute running time, Onward kept me amused and emotional at the same time. Adults will laugh at all the Weekend at Bernie’s callbacks and even kids will get a kick out of the hilarious moments. Although their father was just a pair of legs for most of the film, he’s one of the most enjoyable characters onscreen.
Aside from the puppet body on their dad’s legs, the movie also makes subtle references to Harry Potter as Ian practices his wizardry. I was really waiting for Barley to say Ian’s diction was off a la-Hermione Granger. Then there’s also the very apparent Dungeons and Dragons nods, which players of the tabletop game will enjoy.
That came out of nowhere
Without spoiling the film, I got to say Onward surprised me with its ending. The whole climax part seemed a little too fast-paced but the twist it introduced wasn’t totally out of nowhere. It’s a lot of emotions happening in a span of 30 minutes and the movie doesn’t really give you time to process all that.
The movie’s story is a case of getting what you need over what you want. In the same way, I think Pixar gave us an ending we needed, too. I also love the lessons it teaches kids.
Onward is a great film to kick off Pixar’s lineup in the new decade. It’s a refreshing take on the fantasy genre and it’s satisfying in a way you won’t expect. However it’s still lacking a certain something Coco had. Onward hits emotions hard, but Coco still hit harder. I’m not quite sure if Ian and Barley will be as memorable as other Pixar characters, but I do know that their story is one to remember.
Onward stars Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Lena Waithe, and Ali Wong. This coming-of-age fantasy premieres in theaters on March 4, 2020, with an early special release on February 29.
Words Ayie Licsi
Images courtesy of Disney