Two blue brothers in new Pixar adventure
Onward is one of Pixar’s weirder releases, a goofy ode to fatherhood, brotherhood and the geeky glory of Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy role-playing games.
While it likely won’t be counted among the animation studio’s best (see: Up, Toy Story 3, The Incredibles, WALL-E), the film is still a good time for kids and adults alike, and it packs a nice little sentimental punch in the final minutes.
Ian Lightfoot and older brother Barley (voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, respectively) are living with their mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a suburban fantasy world inhabited by trolls, dragons and their own species, elves. Their world is much like ours (replete with strip malls, smartwatches and crappy vans) but once was a place of magic, full of wizardry and adventure.
On his 16th birthday, Ian gets a note from his long-dead father, whom he never met. Dad has bequeathed to the brothers a wizard’s staff, along with a spell incantation that can bring pops back for 24 hours.
After they both try the staff, the bros discover that it’s Ian who possesses magical powers. He manages to bring only the bottom half of his dad back before their magical staff stone explodes. Thus, the clock starts ticking to figure out how to summon the rest of him before time runs out. This puts Barley and Ian on a quest to find another magical stone, conjure the half of dad that can actually see and speak, and spend some quality whole-dad time before he’s off into the great beyond.
On their adventure, the two encounter a band of angry biker pixies, a dragon made of concrete rubble, and a dragon lady with a scorpion’s tail named The Manticore (Octavia Spencer). The Manticore, formerly a magical beast, now runs a restaurant/arcade out of a once-sacred castle.
Onward is the second Pixar directorial effort from Dan Scanlon (after 2013’s Monsters University); he also contributed to the screenplay. Despite a 102-minute run-time, the film feels a little rushed. The city where Ian and Barley live exists as just a backdrop and is never sufficiently explored. The focus is a little narrow as well. While the brothers are fun, the movie would’ve benefited from some cohorts along for the ride.
Pratt, who did a fine job voicing his character for the Lego movies, arrives in the Pixar universe in fine form. Holland, whose Ian actually looks a little like him, masks his English accent to good effect, as he did in the Spidey movies. They combine to form a winning, if not necessarily memorable, pair.
While Spencer provides some fun moments, supporting turns from Louis-Dreyfus, Mel Rodriguez and Kyle Bornheimer barely register.
This is the first of two Pixar movies coming out this year. The second, Soul, is set for a June release and seems likely to be the more significant of the two.
Onward is still plenty fun. You have to like a kid movie with two brothers on an adventure together. And with the unique character of dad’s bottom half—who communicates by rubbing his feet together and dancing—there’s a weird edge to Onward that helps it rise above mediocrity.