film & game reviews, the retro way.
Pixar's latest is set in a modern day take on a Middle Earth-style fantasy world, where the likes of elves, centaurs and unicorns all live together in a society as technologically advanced as ours, with a somewhat more fantastical history, obviously.
Onward follows two elf brothers: Ian (Tom Holland) is the shy, awkward teenager who lacks confidence and Barley (Chris Pratt) is the exuberant, role playing game fanatic older brother. Their deceased father, whom Ian sadly never got to know, leaves behind a staff with a spell for them to use in order to bring him back to life for 24 hours. Unfortunately, after attempting the spell once, only half of him appears (his waist and legs) so the brothers set out on a quest to find a lost gem that would allow them to complete the spell before its time runs out. During their travels, Ian finds out that he is gifted with the ability to use magic and his relationship with his brother is put to the test as Barley's overeager demeanor doesn't exactly lend credibility to the quest.
The film's first act sets things up a bit like The Incredibles with powerful individuals doing mundane, everyday things like going to school, working, taking out the trash etc. This, coupled with slightly bland character design makes the film a bit tough to get into at first. Thankfully, Onward soon develops into an infinitely more fun buddy road movie as the kids are chased by parents, police and biker fairies. They successfully (and unsuccessfully) use magic along the way, dragging along half of their father throughout. The more surreal the film gets and the deeper Ian and Barley get into their quest, the more enjoyable Onward becomes as you start to forget how derivative it is.
Furthermore, what Onward lacks in originality, it eventually makes up for in heart.
Like Coco, the film's big emotional gut punch doesn't hit until the third act but it is effective and reframes the entire film in an unexpected yet valid way. You take the characters' relationships for granted and the film turns that around on you swiftly and cleverly. The payoff is therefore worth it but the journey getting there is also good fun, despite the sluggish start. Holland and Pratt are reliably good, though they're not exactly playing against-type here, and the rest of the voice cast blends into their characters perfectly. Visually, the film is a treat, especially in 3D, so even if the character design isn't to your liking, there's plenty to be impressed by here.
It may not be one of Pixar's best but it's not one of their worst either. Onward is a solid movie with a positive message, a good sense of humor and a big heart so kids as well as adults should have a good time with it, even if they might not remember too much of it a couple of years down the line.