Pixar has been making movies for twenty-five-years now. Since debuting Toy Story back in 1995, the animation studio has been a true cinematic game-changer. Whether it be through storytelling, animation, or their unique characters, Pixar has pushed the boundaries of cinema to new heights.
But what comes with being around for so long, and being so good for so long, is a predictability of what is to come. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Pixar model is one that has worked so well for so many years, but it does make things a little more difficult in terms of Pixar making another classic like they did so many times in 2000’s.
Onward, the latest from the animation studio, is Pixar 101. Though it does feature its most fantastical world to date (yes, even more fantastical than talking toys or a rat that controls a chef by pulling his hair), Onward is nothing new in terms of story beats and themes. This is far from a bad thing, as Onward is a very fun and entertaining movie, but it does hold Onward back from being a new Pixar classic.
Onward is set in a magical fantasy world where elves, sprites, unicorns, and magic exists. Unfortunately, the magic in this world is gone and everyone is on their phone or watching T.V.. Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland), is a passive elf about to celebrate his sixteenth birthday. The one thing he wants most in his life is to meet his father. Unfortunately, his father passed away before he could remember him and the only things he knows about him are the few stories his brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) tells him. When Ian and Barley’s mother, Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), finds a gift for Ian in their attic from his father, it sends Ian and Barley on an adventure that could lead to them to magically reuniting with their father.
Setting Onward in this magical world really allowed the animators to have a lot of fun and go into a world the studio has yet to touch. Pitting fantasy creatures in a suburban setting is a lot of fun and very funny at times. Unicorns act like stray cats, sprites are tough bikers, and there is a manticore who runs a restaurant and is trying to leave her old past behind. It is very creative and very unique, something we’ve come to expect from Pixar.
The story beats of Onward are also very familiar. Again, being familiar isn’t a bad thing when it comes to Pixar, as they do things right a lot of the time and their scripts are usually strong. Onward is Pixar hitting all the beats we have come to know from them. They build their characters well, blend comedy, action, and drama perfectly, and give us an emotional ending that will bring some people to tears. It is the standard Pixar model and it works, though knowing what is coming does take away a bit of the fun and a good amount of the emotion at the end.
But even with that, Onward is full of heart and does still have a fair amount of emotion to it. This movie really looks raising a child and the idea of, “it takes a village.” Ian never knew his father and Barley only remembers a couple things about him. The two of them were raised by their mother and her boyfriend and Barley did most of the raising of Ian. Onward might sound like a movie about father and sons, but it’s really a look at growing up in a fatherless family, the power of mothers, and the bond between brothers. Like the great Pixar movies, the finale of the film is an emotional gut-punch that ties everything together nicely. It doesn’t carry the emotional weight of say the Toy Story films or Coco, but it is enough to warm your heart and possibly cause a sniffle or two.
Onward is another good entry in the Pixar cannon. This is a studio that turns out masterpieces time and time again, which is a daunting task and some of the films don’t quite hit that level. Onward is one of those films, and though it doesn’t hit the level of greatness we’ve seen from Pixar, this is still a very fun movie with some exciting sequences and a lot of heart.
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