Onward (2020) Review
Director: Dan Scanlan
Screenwriters: Dan Scanlan, Jason Headley
Starring: Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Lena Waithe
“Long ago, the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous. There was magic. But it wasn’t easy to master. So the world found a simpler way to get by. But I hope there’s a little magic left in you.“
Onward is the first Disney Pixar original since Coco back in 2017, as since then we have seen the sequel adventures The Incredibles 2 (2018) and Toy Story 4 (2019). Dan Scanlon takes the director’s seat of this latest Pixar adventure, his work on a number of Pixar projects, including being the director of Monsters University in 2013, seeming to indicate a safe pair of hands for the production company’s first original movie of the decade. It’s fair to say that through his work on Onward, Pixar are moving into the 2020s in a big way.
In this magical adventure we follow Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt) Lightfoot – two elf brothers who have very little in common – as they discover a powerful spell to bring their father back from the dead, though for only 24 hours. When the spell goes horribly wrong, Ian and Barley have to find a way to fix their mistake and in doing so find themselves on an epic quest.
Ian, Barley and the rest of Onward’s characters live in the town New Mushroomton, a generic small town where everyone has busy lives and all spend too much time looking at their phones. New Mushroomton hasn’t always been this way; Barley is passionate about the history of his town and in doing so becomes an avid player of the board game The Land of Yore (which players of Dungeons and Dragons will love). Thanks to his obsession with this game, Barley becomes knowledgeable about the folklore of their world and believes that magic truly does exist.
While on their quest, Ian and Barley’s first stop is The Manticores tavern, which in the days of old would have been a terrifying castle guarded by the savage Manticore (Spencer), but in this modern day society is now a novelty restaurant not dissimilar to the ones found at Disney theme parks all over the world. The ability to not take themselves too seriously is what makes Pixar and Disney the powerhouses they are; the comical irony in this scene is one of the many examples of comedy that will keep parents entertained while sitting with their children in the cinema.
The design of New Mushroomton is one that is animated in true Disney fashion. Jam-packed with mystical creatures and the intertwining of modern civilisation with historical fantasy through its beautiful production design, Onward is a magic-fueled adventure for the whole family and is simply a pleasure to look at.
Including both Pixar’s first self-identifying LGBTQ+ character, in the form of Lena Waithe’s Officer Spector, and a strong independent mother, Laurel Lightfoot, voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Onward is filled with strong and powerful characters that will resonate with younger audiences, the voice cast of Waithe, Dreyfus, Spencer, and the two leads Pratt and Holland, each contributing their own unique brand of quality towards making a typically well nourished group of Pixar heroes.
Although feeling ploddy in parts and including a few narrative beats that didn’t bring anything extra to the story (biker pixies were completely lost on me), Onward is a special treat for the whole family. It’s not quite up there with the big wigs of Pixar (Toy Story, Up and Wall-E) but being slightly forgettable doesn’t warrant it a bad film.
Parents and children alike will thoroughly enjoy experiencing this particular Pixar original story on the big screen.
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