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Onward (Walt Disney/Pixar)

ONWARD (2020) review

Onward hits cinemas on March 6, 2020.

Synopsis

Set in a suburban fantasy world, Disney and Pixar’s ‘Onward’ introduces two teenage elf brothers (voices of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) who embark on an extraordinary quest to discover if there is still a little magic left out there. Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new original feature film is directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae – the team behind ‘Monsters University.’

Review

I have to hold my hands up and admit that prior to seeing this film I did not have a huge awareness of its presence. Onward had somehow managed to sneak by me in a way it thankfully hadn’t for the younger members of the audience who attended a screening I was recently at.

I have an acute awareness with films like this that I am no longer in the target market. So I hugely appreciate watching these films alongside a younger audience to allow me to gage how it lands with its actual demographic.

Having said that there were a couple of moments during Onward at which I felt choked up by it’s touching and honest storyline.

The film stars Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man for the uninitiated) and Chris Pratt (the guy all your kids want to cosplay as from Guardians of the Galaxy) as brothers Ian and Barley. Raised by their mother from a young age, only Barely has memories of their father but when Ian’s sixteenth birthday rolls around they’re given an unexpected gift.

Writer/director Dan Scanlon is very honest in his portrayal of loss for the boys. Both are impacted by the loss in different ways and it’s refreshing to see the topic of parental loss handled in this manner. The writing portrays a delicate balance between a realist portrayal of loss and the surrealist world which the characters inhabit.

This type of delicate emotional balance is something which is evident throughout the story. I’ve seen the film compared to Frozen with its sense of family but also Finding Nemo and other Disney/Pixar fare. But as much as there are echoes of those films, the overall project is much more original and not at all derivative of films past.

Onward takes a lot of cues from the world of Dungeons & Dragons and similar table top RPGs. Something I could absolutely get behind and really helped me buy in to the story. But rather than imitate it uses those elements as signposts along the way as the story weaves its way to a truly emotional conclusion.

There were points in the film where I felt I could predict what would happen and how it would end (you can hear me talk a bit about that in our latest podcast) but I was proven wrong as Onward saunters nicely towards the end credits.

What was also great to see was the amount of character development which went in to all of the main cast. There’s no character left undercooked with individual storylines all coming to a satisfying conclusion when the credits roll.

Of course the lions share of the work goes in to Ian and Barley as Holland Pratt really own the film. The two have an excellent bond which really comes across well even with only their voices and separate to the excellent animation on screen.

I was particularly impressed with how the film built their relationship with their father using only his legs. It’s no spoiler to say that when a spell is cast which will bring their dead father back for 24hrs, it goes wrong and only half of him is resurrected. Despite this there are some hugely emotional moments as Barely recalls drumming on his dad’s feet and later in the film when the three characters all dance together.

For anyone who has lost a parent, as I have, there’s a bit of inherent danger about an emotional outburst. But Onwards really blew me away with it’s handling of the subject matter.

Onwards features the usual, top notch work of Pixar. the film is littered with incredibly well realised landscapes and the fantasy world allows us to go to a wide range of different locations. From the suburban family home, to the high school, in to the city and out in to the mountains, all of the locations are filled with fine detail and will be suitably engaging for children and adults alike.

Likewise there are some brilliant character designs in Onward. Like the film itself, the characters take inspiration from characters in RPG games. There’s enough red and blue in Ian to remind the audience of his other, major big screen role and Barely felt like seeing my teenage self on the screen.

Much like with Monsters Inc. and Monsters University, the film truly benefits from its fantasy setting. It opens up the opportunity to create weird and wonderful looking characters which will appeal to the young audience. The joy the creative team had creating this immersive film is palpable on screen and definitely adds hugely to the enjoyment factor.

Verdict

Onwards is a huge triumph for Pixar. Emotionally impactful but never heavy handed it has all the adventure we could expect from the studio built around some important life lessons.

8/10

Written and directed by Dan Scanlon, Pixar’s Onward stars Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer.


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