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Onward (2020): ‘Another wonderfully made Pixar film’

by | 6 Mar 2020 | Film Reviews

Photo: © Disney Pixar 2020

Two teenage elf brothers, Ian and Barley, get to spend a day with their late dad and go on a quest.

Last summer they proved they knew how to do a sequel for the third time with Toy Story 4. Now, Pixar is giving us a brand new original story for their latest movie, Onward. With the star power of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, including an unbeatable track record, a Pixar film is always something to get excited about.

The film’s set in a contemporary fantasy world filled with mythical creatures like centaurs and dragons. Where once magic was a part of this world, it has now slowly died out due to technological advancements. The story follows two elf brothers, Ian and Barley (Holland and Pratt). On his sixteenth birthday, Ian is given a wizard’s staff which belonged to his late father. With instructions for a spell, the young elf and his brother attempt to bring back their dad for a day. However, the spell doesn’t go according to plan, and the two siblings must embark on an epic quest to put things right.

Onward (2020)

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Regarding the story, Onward is another emotionally mature yet fun family film from Pixar. As expected, the studio masterfully balances those grown-up themes with the child friendly antics. That’s not to say the young ones won’t take away something meaningful from this movie. At its core, this is a story about brotherly love, which is very relatable despite your age. What’s more, director and co-writer Dan Scanlon takes a familiar genre of the road trip movie and is able to add his own twist to it. He’s able to make the end goal of the quest not the main focus. But instead, this is about two very different siblings coming together over the shared experience of losing their dad.

Scanlon makes Onward a very character driven narrative, which makes it wonderfully engaging. It’s all about the journey Ian and Barley go through and how it changes them and their relationship. There are the familiar troupes you would expect, like the timid Ian learning how to be more confident throughout the adventure. But Scanlon executes it so well, that it all feels organic and believable. Barley doesn’t get as much characterisation, but they have a beautifully realised chemistry. Through their adventure together they learn new things about each other that strengthens their bond. Very touching to watch, it’s that typical Pixar magic that will get you blubbering like a child regardless of your age or gender.

‘Of course, none of this would work without the excellent voice cast.’

Holland and Pratt play off each really well, making that brotherly connection feel authentic. Clearly getting the bigger arc, Holland carries that emotional core superbly. You’ll undoubtedly believe his transformation from self-conscious teen to powerful wizard by the film’s end. Even with the limited material, Pratt is likewise able to make Barley a fully fleshed-out character. He so easily could have been that comic relief sidekick and nothing more. Yet Pratt skilfully infuses him with just enough vulnerability, that you’ll easily feel for this character.

Outside of the main two, there’s a great selection of supporting voices. Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Ian and Barley’s widowed mother is just as good with a smaller role. You absolutely feel that maternal love through her vocals, and she ends up getting her own little journey too. Octavia Spencer also adds her voice as Corey, a Manticore who unwittingly gets tangled up in the brothers’ adventure. Although the main focus is Ian and Barley, all these great actors bring their A-game to these smaller but important roles.

External Links

  • Directed by: Dan Scanlon (IMDb).
  • Cinematography: Adam Habib. Sharon Calahan.
  • Film Editing: Catherine Apple.
  • Music: Jeff Danna. Mychael Danna.
  • Original Story: Dan Scanlon. Jason Headley. Keith Bunin.
  • Screenplay: Dan Scanlon. Jason Headley. Keith Bunin.

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When it comes to the animation, Pixar predictably pulls out all the stops. A gorgeously crafted landscape, Scanlon spares no expense in visually creating this contemporary-looking fantasy world. Meticulously crafted together, this is a land full of little details that only enrich the viewing experience. Unlike most kids’ movies, you certainly can’t accuse this one of being lazily made. Not skimping on the spectacle either, the action sequences are full of imagination and excitement, only enhanced by that awesome animation.

‘Onward is another great addition to Pixar’s filmography.’

As always, it has an emphasis on good storytelling that gets the parents just as enthusiastic as the children. Playing around with the fantasy genre, Scanlon presents it in a different, almost self-aware way. Combined with a heartfelt narrative that drives the movie and stunning visuals, this is a fantasy film that is a feast for the senses.

David Axcell

Film Critic

David has quite a broad taste in film which includes big budget blockbusters and small indie films; including International and Arthouse cinema. As long as it’s good in that particular genre, he’ll watch anything.

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