Turn “Onward” offward
Disney and Pixar’s newest release “Onward” is now available in digital streaming form, both on the Disney Plus app and for rental as part of Amazon Prime’s “Prime Video Cinema” feature. The movie disappointed at the box office grossing $40 Million debut weekend — the company’s worst opening since “The Good Dinosaur.” While some outlets have brushed this off and placed blame on COVID-19 as it’s keeping theaters shut and moviegoers at home, it didn’t seem to affect other films opening on similar dates. If you ask me, it’s a red herring to excuse the fact that the film is predictable and overall mediocre.
In a world inspired by fantasy folklore yet still tied to our modern existence, teenaged elf Ian — voiced by Tom Holland — struggles to make friends and project self-confidence due to his father’s death during his childhood. Most kids in movies, it seems, have at least one dead parent. But on his sixteenth birthday when he discovers a magic staff and spell that can bring back his dad for one day, he and his older brother Barley — voiced by Chris Pratt — head off on an adventure to reconnect with their long lost papa.
Having experienced the mega-hit sequels of “Toy Story 4,” “Incredibles 2,” and “Finding Dory” in the last few years, “Onward” is Pixar’s first feature not to be a sequel since 2016’s “Coco.” That sequence of hits has come to a halt with this project, which plays out all the cliches and tropes one would expect from a movie aimed at children. For a company like Pixar that typically does so well at avoiding such pitfalls, it makes the end product that greater a disappointment.
The story is set in a world full of traditional fantasy elements like elves, centaurs, pixies, and magic, but over the centuries magic has fallen out of use since it takes too much effort compared to technological advances. Yet, young Ian manages to essentially learn how to be a good enough mage in one day to hold his own in a battle against a dragon at the end of the film. Additionally, the magic obsessed brother, Barley, somehow possesses no magic while his brother does, a very non-subtle hint to the audience that his journey in the movie is about believing in magic, both literal and metaphorical.
The two brothers are voiced by “Avengers: Endgame” co-stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, and it feels like they’re just reprising those roles of Peter Parker and Star Lord, respectively. I fear the two of them are getting typecasted, which is a shame since they’ve both proven to be funny and capable actors. The rest of the cast is nothing special, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer tagging along thanklessly as token female characters providing little value to the plot.
But that would all have been forgivable if the movie was funny or clever. Sadly, it is not. The jokes are clearly being aimed at the smallest youngsters in the audience, and the script has obvious setups even an average viewer can spot coming. The emotional journey the brothers go on has its heart in the right place, but the execution is so stock that it makes me wonder what passion the filmmakers could have had in the project to deliver something so forgettable.
“Onward” might please your kids, but any other way you look at it, it’s just another road trip movie. If you have Disney Plus there are unarguably dozens of better Pixar movies available on the same service, and if you have Amazon Prime, just as many non-Disney properties more worthy of your time are accessible. An entertaining final act and Pixar’s typical gorgeous animation aren’t enough to make up for the grueling first two thirds. Since Pixar’s standards are usually high this, unfortunately, means something so middle of the road is a massive let down.
Star Rating: Two and a half stars
- Stunning animation and visuals.
- Decent voice acting.
- The final act is successfully exciting.
- Flat jokes.
- Predictable script.
- Bland overall visual design.