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Onward – Movie Review

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Onward – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Part of the appeal of fantasy films is seeing the different magical creatures that populate the world created by the authors and filmmakers. Director Dan Scanlon seems to have latched onto that in devising the story for Onward, which cleverly brings those mythological beings to a modern world. That setting is used to solid effect to enhance this tale of brotherhood. Both Ian and Barley make for likeable leads and there is an emotional investment in seeing them complete their quest. The emotions do hit and there are a lot of imaginative ideas presented that play into our knowledge of fantasy stories.

In addition to the fantasy element, which owes a lot to Dungeons & Dragons and The Lord of the Rings, Onward also brings to mind ‘80s comedies in the way Scanlon directs the film and establishes the main characters. Ian and Barley are certainly opposites, but they are also believable as brothers. Their chemistry is charming and enjoyable, while the dramatic scenes also provide the needed weight. The film very quickly delves into the pain they feel over losing their father at a young age and that heightens our emotional investment in the story. Pixar movies are known for their heartfelt scenes and Onward doesn’t disappoint in that regard.

Even with the occasionally heavy subject matter, the film certainly knows when to lighten the mood. Some of the biggest laughs in Onward come courtesy of the father’s legs and feet, the only body parts that are resurrected after an incomplete magical spell. The decision to give him a fake upper body gives the animators a lot of opportunities to create some hilarious scenes of physical comedy. Another scene-stealer comes from a Manticore who has abandoned her previous fighting ways to operate a family restaurant. This allows for Scanlon and the Pixar team to create some funny gags making fun of those all-too-familiar properties. Manticore’s own arc throughout the film is well developed and inspired.

The design team at Pixar has done a marvelous job of populating the world of Onward with all sorts of fantasy creatures. The story artists have followed suit by imagining the mischief they would get into in a modern age. The characters have a unique and appealing look to them with each race looking distinct. Whether it’s the elf brothers we’re following or a motorcycle gang full of pixies, they’re able to feel specific to Onward, even while paying homage to other fantasy lands. There is a lot of imagination in the movie, some of which end up being neat surprises.

Dan Scanlon has crafted an entertaining road trip adventure that takes full advantage of its setting and it’s clear how much love he has for fantasy stories and the beings who populate them. The humour is winning and charming and the brothers’ relationship is nicely handled. Onward is an engaging story that moves nicely along and does hit the emotional sweet spot at times, too. The film also continues Pixar’s impressive record of making visually stunning animated films. The stylization of this realm is closer to the architecture of Monsters, Inc. than the hyper-realism they’ve favored in films like The Good Dinosaur and that’s also appreciated. Onward is another film in the Pixar catalogue to be proud of.

Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison