“It’s not fair to call me a screw up if you don’t give me a chance to do something right.”
- Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt)
Magic is a concept that has always fascinated humanity to an absurd degree despite the common conclusion that it does not exist. Still, the entertainment industry seems more than excited to satisfy that fascination, most especially Pixar, possibly the most iconic animation studio in the twenty-first century. The studio, notable for the production of films such as Finding Nemo, Toy Story, The Incredibles, and more, takes the childlike curiosity and flips it on its head to create a world, not unlike our own, with mythical creatures as the equivalent of the human race in their latest production: Onward, now streaming exclusively on Disney Plus. The some one hundred and two minutes takes this eccentric world of mythical creatures and applies the worn mold of a younger protagonist onto the character of Ian Lightfoot, a teenage elf who has recently turned sixteen and has never met his deceased father.
Taking the traditional yet effective coming of age journey, Ian attempts to find a way to meet his father after being given a magical staff and only returning his father’s lower half. From these words, it is obvious that Onward did not strike me as particularly unique, even with the jaw-dropping world that will surely make its way into some part of Disney’s franchise of theme parks. Despite such a hindrance though, director Dan Scanlon and company smoothly wrap things up, finishing the experience with a handful of poignant messages that may even strike a tear for some audiences. Bundled with the usual brilliant, eye catching animation that fans come to expect from Pixar, Onward presents a light, but enjoyable enough story of the importance of family and companionship, wrapped with a steady mix of clichés and charming set pieces.
Ian Lightfoot lives the common high schooler life with his elder brother Barley and his mother. Awkward and with low confidence, Ian longs to meet the father who died prior to his birth. Coincidentally, when Ian turns sixteen, his mother presents his brother and him with a (supposedly) magical staff from their father and a spell to bring back their father for a day. Barley, ever the optimist and the sibling who still believes in the existence of magic, immediately attempts to bring back their father with the Visitation spell, only to be unsuccessful. When Ian tries, he succeeds in using the spell, but only the lower half of their father is brought back before the rare gem for the staff is destroyed. Desperate to meet his father and despite his lack of belief in magic, Ian agrees to go with Barley on a “quest” to retrieve another gem before their father’s time is up.
During this quest, other mythical creatures within this universe are introduced. A manticore named Corey owns a tavern and was previously known to be a fierce adventurer with the possession of the map to the gem; however, she has grown more submissive in recent years, turning her tavern into a family restaurant (not unlike Chuck E. Cheese in our own world). The presence of the two boys, searching for an adventure for the gem, angers Corey by reminds her the danger and action she missed from her previous life. Burning her tavern and unfortunately the map to the gem, Corey realizes that the gem Ian and Barley were searching for had a curse attached to it. With the boys’ mother in tow, Corey goes on her own quest to find her sword (which can destroy the curse) before the boys can unleash it.
As mentioned previously, Onward lacks meaty, fully realized storytelling and even more so originality. The consequence is that the narrative continuously underwhelms until the final sequences miraculously heightens the average scenes that have come before it. Even though the ending and final message of the film were heart-warming and endearing, Onward continuously fails to live up to the standard of the studio’s other releases. Such a take of mine is slightly tainted by the previous opinions of family members who had screened the film before me, but their common complaints rang true for me as well when I managed to hit the play widget on my Disney Plus account.
At the very least, Onward is gorgeously animated, taking the cake as the best animated feature of the year so far in terms of the technical definition of the phrase. It is simply superb with Pixar adopting a new style that draws more inspirations than Disney’s own animation division than the usual realism-centric looks that have defined the studio over the years.
While lacking in originality and plot, Onward delivers a coming of age story through the aesthetically pleasing format of visual storytelling. Overall, the audience may have some trouble fully connecting with the film if they do not have the same perspective as the film’s major plot, but it will be enjoyable if taken with a grain of salt and an open mind.
Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, go on an journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.
ONWARD is Available Now for Streaming on Disney Plus.