MOVIE REVIEW by Lucas Allen: ‘Onward’ fun, but familiar

(Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios)

By Lucas Allen

After securing the box office with the sequels “Incredibles 2” and “Toy Story 4,” Pixar is going back to originals with its new film “Onward.” It’s a story loosely inspired by the nostalgia and appeal for fantasy films and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. An average viewer may not share that kind of enthusiasm, but the movie makes the story accessible enough that all ages will likely enjoy.
The town of New Mushroomton has a population of elves, ogres, pixies and other mystical creatures who are more concerned with technology. High schooler Ian (Tom Holland) is turning 16, and wishes his late father was still around to see how he has grown up. His mother Laurel (Julia-Louis Dreyfuss) gives him and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) his father’s magical staff, which contains a special spell. The spell uses a special stone that can bring somebody back to life for 24 hours.
But when Ian tries the spell, it only results in his dad’s lower half being returned. Soon enough, he and Barley set off in his older brother’s van to seek another magic stone that can complete the process before the 24 hours are up. Along the way, they have to contend with their mother’s boyfriend, Officer Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), pixie bikers and Ian’s bad driving skills to fulfill their quest. Meanwhile, Laurel teams up with the ancient Manticore (Octavia Spencer) to save her sons from unleashing a deadly curse.
The movie is typical Pixar, balancing hilarious humor and heartwarming emotion plus a good amount of action sequences. It’s nice they’re doing original stories again, but one can’t help but feel like they’ve seen the same movie before many times. Pixar seems to be doing the same journey film over and over for each new young audience which is fine, but longtime fans may be starting to feel tired of it. If the studio has to stay afloat, they should do more original material that’s more different than audience expectations. Hopefully, their next film Soul coming out this summer will give us something really different.
The fun factor is particularly higher when you have some good characters in a wonderfully animated production. There are some clever design choices brought to each scene that the animators seem to be having a blast coming up with modernizing a fantasy world. Near the third act, the movie goes back to traditional fantasy elements including introducing a last-minute villain to the proceedings. Afterwards, it manages to hit that emotional center where it can and it makes the whole thing very worthwhile.
Another important element is the work done by the two main actors, who bring a similar appeal and personality to their performances much like their Marvel Cinematic Universe counterparts. Holland is exceptionally likable with a great sense of comedic timing and energy. Pratt is also energetic, while remains recognizable with his “cool dude” persona. Together, these two actors can bring both the laughs and the tears that you wish you want to see Spider-Man and Star Lord team up once more.
While not one of the studio’s finest, Onward becomes proof that Pixar can still deliver quality animated movies while creating new and exciting worlds. It’s worth noting that the movie comes with a Simpsons short starring Baby Maggie in a humorous homage to Disney’s early silent animation. Hopefully, it might lead to an upcoming Simpsons movie sequel.

THE MOVIE’S RATING: PG (for action/peril and some mild thematic elements)
THE CRITIC’S RATING: 3.25 Stars (Out of Four)