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After Slow Start, ‘Onward’ Hits its Stride and Shines

March 9, 2020

By the time I hit the 20-minute mark of ‘Onward,’ I had to ask myself whether it was actually a Disney Pixar movie or if I’d simply convinced myself it was.

 

It didn’t necessarily have the “look” of one, which wasn’t a big deal, but it was really missing the feel – that emotional oomph that all the great Disney Pixar flicks have. Missing that feel really made it feel like one of the corny DreamWorks movies.

Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) in Disney Pixar’s ‘Onward.’ (© 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it turned a corner and slowly built its way toward having that feel and entering the upper echelon of the studio’s library.

 

‘Onward’ is the story of Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), elf brothers that live in the suburbs. But prior to becoming home to strip malls and townhouses, the land was filled with magic. Barley, a prog rock and D&D type, believes in the lore of the land while Ian, the quite nerdy one, doesn’t.

 

On the night of Ian’s 16th birthday their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), gives the pair a present their father had left for them before he died – a magic spell that can bring him back for one day. When the spell only goes half right, the brothers set off on a quest to finish the spell and get one last day with their dad.

The Manticore (Octavia Spencer) and Laurel Lightfoot (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) Disney Pixar’s ‘Onward.’ (© 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

If you throw out all the magic, elves and mystical beasts – namely The Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer) – the heart of ‘Onward’ is a familiar one – brothers who have grown apart coming back together despite their stark differences.

 

Like I said, the story took a while to ramp up – those first 20 minutes felt a littler sillier than necessary, more random than normal, not nearly as polished as most Disney Pixar movies. Sure, there were some laughs, but they felt a little cheap, and the introductions to the characters and this once-magical land felt forced. But then, once we “got to know” our two main characters, and all their quirks and idiosyncrasies were out in the open, the story finally had direction and found its footing.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much heart the movie has. The relationship between Ian and Barley was incredibly powerful and felt very authentic. Add in the tragedy of a father not living long enough to see his sons grow up, and you’ve got the makings of a real tear-jerker. Based on the number of misty-eyed people exiting the theater, neither of those were lost on a good portion of the audience.

Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) in Disney Pixar’s ‘Onward.’ (© 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

 

So, after stumbling out of the gates, just how far did ‘Onward’ manage to climb in the Pixar hierarchy? I wouldn’t go so far as to put it in the top tier (‘Up,’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ ‘Toy Story’), but I would place it squarely in the second tier (‘Coco,’ ‘Monsters, Inc.’).

 

★★★★ of ★★★★★

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