wed 17/04/2024

Onward review - do you believe in magic? | reviews, news & interviews

Onward review - do you believe in magic?

Onward review - do you believe in magic?

Pixar excels at brotherly love in a familiar but charm-filled family quest

Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) are misfit elves in this mad, magical adventureDisney/Pix

Welcome to New Mushroomton: a fantasy land that’s forgotten itself. This is how we’re introduced to Pixar’s Onward, which is set in a Dungeons & Dragons daydream of suburbia. Director Dan Scanlon’s film is a tribute to his late father, but it begins with a separate elegy.

“Long ago,” we’re told, “the world was full of wonder.” Until the day that convenience killed magic — electricity was invented, spells cast aside. Today’s mythical creatures have become ordinary: trolls run tollbooths, gnomes are garden-variety.

Such is life for Onward’s heroes, the elven Lightfoot family. There’s meek Ian (Tom Holland), his layabout brother Barley (Chris Pratt) and their mum Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, pictured below). It’s Ian’s birthday and there’s a surprise: a rare magical gift that can bring their father back to life for one day. Luckily, Barley understands magic. Unluckily, they can only conjure dad from the hips down. To reunite, two boys and a pair of trousers need to beat the clock. The quest begins.

Weird premise, but strap in for the ride. This is goofy but sincere family entertainment. It may not be the most creative animated film of recent years, and its protagonist — though empathetic — is not Pixar’s most compelling. Still, I enjoyed every moment. Onward brims with visual gags and is buoyed by solid voice performances, full of sweet chemistry. The action is often medium-stakes but always high-octane. For a kids’ blockbuster, the film also has a refreshingly modern take on family life. Onward celebrates Laurel as a terrific parent without judging her new partnership. And, when her character casually mentions a same-sex relationship, Lena Waithe voices Pixar’s first out LGBTQ character (though the fact she’s playing a cyclops police officer does leave something to the imagination).

Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) with their pet dragon in OnwardIn the lead-up to its release, there’s been chatter that Onward will be mislabeled as a boys’ film, just like Frozen was needlessly coded girly. But Onward is for everyone. Not only are the main female characters ass-kickers rediscovering their own strength, but the core story is a celebration of trust, brotherly affection and lifelong love between men. Across its journey, the film foregrounds two ideas. The first is the yearning that comes from the loss of a central figure in your life. The second is the importance of the people who help us persevere after loss, and who, in doing so, become equally central. Onward is sentimental but not schmaltzy and it’s sure to touch anyone who grew up with a brother or lost a parent too soon. Despite the big studio and the bigger bucks, it’s easy to feel that its heart is in the right place.

So Pixar’s chugging onward, across familiar territory. But new perspectives are flickering at its edges. The studio's next outing, Soul, will be released later this year — it features the studio’s first black protagonist and is directed by Pete Docter, who was responsible for the irrepressibly lovely Inside Out. I’ll giddily await.


Not Pixar’s most compelling work. Still, I enjoyed every moment.


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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