So, Onward Is Amazing
I saw an advanced screening of Onward this weekend, the new original Disney Pixar film about a fantasy world after it has evolved past using magic. Even though I am a huge fan of Pixar, I was not expecting much from their first not-sequel/prequel in years. The trailer made me wistful for the days when a new Pixar movie was an event, guaranteed to be new, entertaining, and touching. It ends up, Onward is new, entertaining, and touching.
What worried me most about the trailer was the cast. Chris Pratt’s Barley Lightfoot felt like if Jack Black played a less interesting version of Emmit from The Lego Movie. And Tom Holland’s Ian Lightfoot felt like Peter Parker before he got powers. Pixar rarely casts flavour of the month actors, and that made this feel more like a Dreamworks movie. The humour was at about that level, too. Not that Dreamworks films aren’t entertaining. They even have a decent track record for being touching. But there was a time when Pixar movies were something special, and this just didn’t feel special.
Ends up, Onward has a lot more depth than I gave it credit for. There’s an ongoing metaphor about how the convenience of technology makes us lose touch with the rewards of hard work. It doesn’t shame technological advancement, which that kind of subplot tends to do, but handles it in a relatable manner. The scope of the plot is larger than I expected, and advances at a good pace. The rules for the world’s magic are cleverly established and used, usually with multiple payoffs.
The characters and relationships in the movie are where Onward shines, which was a nice surprise. The secondary characters play more important roles than the trailer suggests, and to great effect, although the core relationships are the Lightfoot brothers and their dad. I love a good family dynamic without melodrama. Familial relationships are complicated in subtle ways, and Onward lives off that subtly. The arguments feel earned, and the scope of the arguments are appropriate. The same goes for the touching moments. Pixar gets a lot of mileage out of the dad’s legs (this makes sense if you’ve seen the trailer).
If you’re a fan of classic Pixar and weren’t sure if you were going to check this one out, I suggest Onward. My kids loved it, and it made two out of two adults cry. Like I said, classic Pixar.