Directed by: Dan Scanlon
Written by: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, and Keith Bunin
Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez
Reviewed by: Brad Williamson
Genre: Animation / Fantasy
Set in a magical land yet mirroring our own society, Onward is equal parts parody, action, family drama, and epic fantasy. Though not quite peak Pixar upon first viewing, it is very, very good, and I think it might be one of those films that only improves over time, the true mark of greatness.
So let’s start with the obvious: Why are there no more short films preceding Pixar features? This is extremely disappointing and needs to be fixed immediately; it’s also not a new thing, stretching back at least two films now, if not more. Bring them back! And now, ahem, onward with the review…
The world is fun and whimsical; it’s also not explored enough, but this is nitpicking and one of the reasons I feel like I’ll enjoy this film even more years down the road. I was so enraptured by this world that I wanted more of it, more quests, more beasts, more action, but to get more of these aspects would have meant sacrificing the emotional sequences and family moments, and that just isn’t what a Pixar film is. I wouldn’t want to cut any of those touching scenes, and a three-hour Pixar movie, much as I wouldn’t mind the runtime, is never going to happen. Still, what we do see of the world and experience within it is wondrous and spectacular. My only complaint is that I wanted more of it, but I also don’t want to see this become another 3- or 4-part franchise.
The plot is also great fun. It’s a cross between a journey-based bildungsroman, an RPG game parody kind of like if Ready Player One’s film had been similar to its source material, and a fantasy adventure. It’s complex and touching, action-packed, beautiful and fun, funny and relevant, with one of the best third acts and climaxes in the Pixar canon.
The characters were also great. The brothers were clearly the protagonists, but the periphery characters were great, both in character development and voice acting. I loved all of them. I am not a big Chris Pratt fan, but I must admit he made a great Barley; however, in full disclosure, throughout the entire film I was imagining how much better Jack Black would have done. Maybe that’s my natural bias, but this casting choice felt a little off despite how well Pratt did. I’d love to hear if anyone else thought this same thing about this particular character.
The animation was also great as always, though not as innovative as Pixar has been in some of their films; it was great, but it wasn’t the next era of animation quality like some of their efforts have generated.
All in all, it was a great film that should age particularly well. I just hope it doesn’t get overlooked and go unwatched due to Coronavirus. Go watch it if you can. Recommended.