Fresh from its Berlinale premiere, Pixar’s Onward takes place in a time when technology and modern convenience has replaced real magic. A pair of teen elf brothers, Ian and Barley (voiced by Marvel alums Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), are bequeathed with a present from their late father: a magical staff that allows them to bring someone back from the dead for 24 hours. However, when they manage to only conjure up the bottom half of their dad, the siblings must go on a quest to find a magical gem that’ll complete the resurrection spell before time runs out and the pair of legs fade away.
This is writer-director Dan Scanlon’s second time in the director’s chair for Pixar, and his sophomore effort is stronger than his first try with Monsters University. It’s an original story about parenthood and cherishing what you have in front of you rather than shackling yourself to the past, one that comfortably surpasses some of the studio’s lower-tier efforts like Cars 2 and The Good Dinosaur. It plays out like Lord of the Rings meets Weekend At Bernie’s, and while this has oodles of potential on paper, the execution feels lacking. Onward settles into the ever-reliable hero’s journey narrative framework and the hilarious central gimmick of our heroic duo being joined by the disembodied legs of their father feels rather tepidly handled, to the point where there isn’t much here that’s radically inventive or subtly subversive. Even if the excellent animation and satisfying sentimental climax will go a long way to paper over some of the cracks, this is not a Pixar offering with much staying power. We’ll have to wait until the studio’s next release this year, Soul, to see if they can serve up something approaching the far more memorable highwater marks of Ratatouille and Inside Out.
Onward | Directed by Dan Scanlon (US, 2020), with Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Starts Mar 5.
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