'Onward' Review: Fantastical Dramedy Looks For A Way To Bring Back A Dead Parent
It’s always funny that if a Pixar movie is deemed only as good then it must be a little disappointing. The animation studio has such a success ratio with its flicks that it’s almost a sin to say out loud some of the less money-making ones. Director and co-writer Dan Scanlon's Onward is a prime example of this as it definitely doesn’t reinvent any van wheels and there’s the typical pixar-must-haves but luckily it doesn’t try to rewrite the characters in the end sequence.
As much as the structure is cookie-cutter stuff, the fantasy aspect of the story is the film’s strong suit. In the last years we have had very grounded ideas for animation from Pixar and other studios so it was actually refreshing to see something so boldly out-of-this-world. And not just that, the film really leans on it and the characters are dropped into this world instead of the world being written around them just to give them something to do. What was also fun to see is that the movie gets better along the way with most of the dumbed down comedy being in the beginning, the adventure moments happening in the middle and storylines all come together in the last third. The use of purple works so well for everything and overall the colours are beautifully used while Tom Holland (as Ian) really shines in voice acting as he gets to act more here than in many of his other high-profile projects.
Onward isn’t a let down really in any major department but it is frustratingly formulaic until nearly the end. It makes it blend in with the rest so much that down the years you’re probably going to have a hard time remembering anything specific about the film. One exception is the fatherhood/brotherhood moment at the end which was actually amazingly directed and the fact that it was built on everything that happened before (even before the film’s story starts).
What is worthy of a heavy sigh is the handling of Specter (Lena Waithe), a police officer who happens to be lesbian. Her involvement comes with the line ”It’s not easy being a new parent. My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out”, which is both awkwardly written into words and thrown into the scene. You can feel the pat-on-the-back at Disney for it as they really did the minimum effort but when you have characters like Barley (Chris Pratt) with a lot of depth, it’s really cheap to do this to your supporting characters. This extends to the mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), also as we know nothing about her relationship with her sons or the dead father.
Smileys: Originality, colouring, ending
Frowneys: Structure, characterisation
Onward doesn’t push animated movies forward but the world is interesting enough to visit.