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Review: Onward (2020)

If you’re talking Pixar, you’re talking high quality, heartfelt, premium animation with a standard unsurmounted by other animated feature films.

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If you’re talking Pixar, you’re talking high quality, heartfelt, premium animation with a standard unsurmounted by other animated feature films. And that might be why its newest outing Onward, while an exciting adventure flick, excellently animated and featuring high profile voices of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, hits the right spot but still feels like a secondary level outing from the studio.

Set in a magic and fantastically vivid world adorned with unicorns and everyday creatures, Onward puts the relationship of brothers Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt), who still feel the loss of their father years ago, though for Ian, it’s more of a romanticised loss as he never really met his father properly. A gift left to the boys gives them the power to resurrect their father for a day, but in an unfortunate turn of events, only the bottom half of the father comes back to life. From here the boys decide to find someone to finish the spell and bring their father back in full, which kicks the action of the film going.

Onward is an interesting film. It’s certainly grounded in an emotional aspect of its writer Dan Scanlon that looks at the relationship of brothers and the effect of losing one’s parent has on the individual. It seems familiar thematically to other Pixar films, namely Inside Out, as the film looks at navigating emotions as a young person. But instead of doubling down in a realistic way like Inside Out, Onward takes another approach by adding in fantastical elements to counter the more emotional parts of the story and lighten the mood. 

Both Holland and Pratt do well with their material, though you can’t help but feel that Julia Louis Dreyfus was given more to work with as their mother Laurel. There’s a very likeable chemistry between the family members that feels authentic and is vital to get the message of the film across. 

The biggest failing of the film is its episodic nature that doesn’t always weave through the story seamlessly. There’s a subplot with a manticore (Octavia Spencer) re-embracing her nature that drags down the story, even as it attempts to provide more comedic relief. Adding in the fact that they are bringing a half-person with them, this angle of comedy dies down pretty quickly. Its jarring tone and unusual subplots let the film down overall. The films success lies at the end, where its climatic finale lends itself to an emotional conclusion about family, love and appreciation make an impactful finale statement. It’s a solid animated film that will leave you teary eyed but may not linger long term.

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