Magic used to reign supreme in the world of elves, dragons, trolls, and winged unicorns. But then technology was invented, and things got so much easier. The various magical creatures got lazy and complacent and forgot the ways of old. This is the intriguing setup for Onward, the latest Pixar effort to blend entirely different genres while satirizing the modern world. It also had its theatrical run cut significantly short, meaning those who enjoy their animation on the big screen weren’t able to indulge themselves.
But thanks to the power of digital streaming it’s now possible to enjoy this fantasy fable about a truly blended family from the comfort – and safety – of home right now.
Present day: It’s the 16th birthday of elf Ian (Tom Holland). His Mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and RPG-loving brother Barley (Chris Pratt) have a special party planned for Ian and he decides today will be the day he becomes the version of himself he always wanted to be. He’s going to be confident, make friends, and be like his dad who died when he was a baby. After his plans go awry, his Mom tries to make it better by giving him a gift from his dad that she promised not to give him until he turned 16. It’s a magic staff and a spell promising to bring his dad back for 24 hours. Awesome!
Something goes wrong when Ian performs the spell and his dad is only brought back from the waist down! A pair of anthropomorphic, kaki and purple sock wearing legs! Due to his obsession with a Roleplaying game about magic, Barley believes he can help get their dad all the way back. But doing so will require daring! Danger! Adventure! All the fun stuff that makes a quest worth the questing. Left with no choice, Ian goes along, and the brothers set out on an epic quest to find an artifact that will help fix the spell. And along the way, they face off against a Manticore (Octavia Spencer), a biker gang of pixies, the local police, and many others.
Originally released in theaters only just a month ago, Onward had its theatrical run cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic. Luckily, Disney decided to spread the wealth and released it to digital far earlier than expected – in this case their own Disney+ streaming service for home viewing. Thanks, Disney!
Written by Jason Headley (A Bad Idea Gone Wrong), Keith Bunin (Horns), and director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) Onward is a fairly original story that felt like the family friendly version of all the modern-day magic we were promised with Netflix’s Bright but never really got.
There were laugh out loud moments, tear inducing moments, adventurous edge-of-your-seat moments… and all that epic amazingness was in the second half of the film! Unfortunately, the first half was mostly listless, boring, and only possessing a modicum of charm. If you can force yourself to sit through that first half, you’ll be well-rewarded much like a questing adventurer who never gives up!
The voice talent was on par with what you’d expect from a Disney/Pixar flick, although I did feel like Chris Pratt was attempting a Jack Black impression ala Jake Kasdan’s 2002 Orange County (another road trip comedy with two brothers – one overweight and dorky, the other studious and scrawny – going on an adventure to right the younger brother’s mistake).
Wow! It only just now occurred to me that Onward is really just Orange County mixed with Bright. Huh. Just goes to show there’s really aren’t any totally original ideas left anymore, but if you can find a great way to combine concepts you can end up with something magical. Get it? ‘Cause there’s magic!
If you missed its all-too-brief theatrical run Onward is definitely worth the watch, especially if you’ve got the time and a current Disney+ subscription – or can find a copy elsewhere. While not a modern Pixar masterpiece by any stretch and is a bit slow to start, much like Barley’s piece-of-junk van, once it picks up speed it really soars! There’s enough good stuff here for everyone in the family to enjoy, possibly multiple times given how much eye-candy is stuffed into the backgrounds, even if it could have been about 10 minutes shorter.