Review: Onward (2020)

Director: Dan Scanlon
Screenwriters: Keith Bunin, Jason Headley, Dan Scanlon
Starring: [voices of] Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-dreyfus, Lena Waithe
Genres: Animation, Children/Family, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements
Release Dates: 3/6/20 (Wide Theatrical); 3/20/20 (Disc/Streaming)
Where to Watch: Disney+
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

You can never fault Pixar for lack of imagination, and their latest, the fantastical-set Onward, is no different. The film centers on two elf brothers, voiced by MCU stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, living in a world that is very similar to our own, except that it is inhabited by magical creatures (like the Monsters films, in that sense). Even though elves, centaurs, and the like roam the earth, they live almost exactly like we humans do in the 21st century — except for the fact that magic supposedly, at one point, existed, and may still exist.

The film is centered on a teenage elf (Holland) and his older, confident, and magic-obsessed brother (Pratt), as they seek to bring their long-deceased father back to life. Onward ends up being a quasi-coming-of-age tale + road trip + relationship study between two brothers. There are certainly some heartwarming moments towards the end, but (surprisingly) I did not cry as much as others were — and as much as I have when watching (even rewatching) previous Pixar stand-outs like Inside Out, Up, and WALL-E.

Like most Pixar films, Onward is full of all sorts of humor that will appeal to both children and adults, as well as plenty of entertaining characters. Holland and Pratt’s voices seem to fit their roles perfectly, with Holland voicing a character who is akin to Peter Parker. Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and others fill out the rest of the strong vocal cast, as well as Lena Waithe in a small role as a lesbian police officer — she actually mentions a “girlfriend.” While I wish LGBT characters were given bigger roles in Disney films, this is a huge step in the right direction for representation.

Despite its fantastical setting, Onward isn’t nearly as original as it wants to be, at least when examining the narrative at its core. There are some fairly predictable moments and plot points, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the story. I was just hoping for something a bit deeper, although my Pixar standards are very high.


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