Monday, March 9, 2020

Movie Review: Onward

Onward **** / *****
Directed by: Dan Scanlon.
Written by: Dan Scanlon & Jason Headley & Keith Bunin.
Starring: Tom Holland (Ian Lightfoot), Chris Pratt (Barley Lightfoot), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Laurel Lightfoot), Octavia Spencer (Manticore), Ali Wong (Officer Gore), Lena Waithe (Officer Spector), Mel Rodriguez (Officer Colt Bronco), John Ratzenberger (Construction Worker Fenwick).
The early scenes of Onward will likely feel like a movie you’ve seen before. It is a film set in a fairy tale world of elves and other mystical creatures, but in a modern day, suburban setting – devoid of magic, because science and technology offered easier ways to get what they needed than magic did, so it just sort of died out. These early scenes had me worried a little – that Pixar was drifting into Dreamworks territory here, and all we’d end up is a serious of pop culture references and in-jokes that can be amusing, but date almost instantly. But in the case of Onward, I think, this is by design. The film is deliberately setting itself up like that – and then over the course of its narrative, it does many interesting things with what seems like a mishmash of familiar tropes and genres – because that is precisely what is. Onward isn’t the most original film that Pixar has ever made – you’ll recognize elements of all sorts of films, from 1980s Spielberg to Tolkien, and everything in between. But it does it all in such interesting ways, you end up not minding.
The story is about a pair of brothers – Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt). Ian is the shy, introverted nerd – just turned 16 – and Barley is his older, slacker brother – still interested in games that will make you think of Dungeons and Dragons, that Barley insists are based in historical fact. It’s a good think Barley knows all of this too, because they’ll need it. Their late father – who died when Barley was too young to have much in the way of memories of, and before Ian was born, left a gift for the brothers to be opened when Ian turns 16. It is a magic staff – and a magic gem – which will bring him back to life for just 24 hours. Barley, unfortunately, has no natural magical ability at all – it is Ian who finds he can wield the staff, and cast spells. He doesn’t quite get the spell right though – and only half of their dad – the bottom half – comes back. In order to get the rest, they’ll need another magical gem. And thus, we get a Pixar road movie with the two brothers, who seem so different, on the road together.
There are a lot of visual in-jokes littered throughout Onward – aimed at the kind of adult male geeks who will understand them all, and likely be insufferable in pointing them all out. Like all Pixar films, the film looks amazing – even lesser Pixar usually look better than just about anything else from other American animation studios, and this is no exception. They’ve also clearly thought through this world – and it’s full of interesting touches, like unicorns who essentially act like raccoons, or dragons as dogs, etc. It’s a film that delights in creating these beyond fanciful creatures, and then making them everyday and normal for its audience. The best supporting character is clearly the Manticore – a part lion, part bat, part scorpion legendary warrior, who has transformed her legendary tavern into a family restaurant, and has to rediscover her true identity as a warrior (she is voiced by Octavia Spencer, in a wonderful vocal performance).
And as with most Pixar movies, Onward does indeed try and milk tears out of its audience, and for me at least it succeeded. Sure, it could very easily because I lost my dad was I very young (unlike Barley, I don’t have any memories) – which made me an easy mark, but then again my relationship with my older brothers wasn’t anything like the one here is. The use of the father character here is very good – it’s funny, at least at first, to see the legs – and the makeshift body they make for them – but it works on a deeper level as well – the father who is always there, but never quite at the same time. It’s heartbreaking in its way.
The film is full of action and comedy, and along the way those emotions do sneak up a little. At times, you can get lost in all the visual imagination, and not quite notice what the film is doing on both a narrative and emotional level – but it all comes together in a satisfying package. I don’t think Onward is quite top-level Pixar – none have been since Inside Out, and it’s been a decade now since Toy Story 3 was the final film in a remarkable run when Pixar was the best, most consistent force in mainstream American film. Yet, it’s still an excellent animated film – full of imagination and fun, and genuine emotional resonance. Even if it doesn’t quite reach into that old Pixar magic, it better than most other animated films you’ll see in any given year.

1 comment:

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    Onward 2020 Full Movie in HD Qaulity

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