With movie theaters closed, many studios have decided to release current-run movies out for streaming and download. I caught up with Pixar’s 22nd film.
Pixar has always excelled at two different film structures. The first is when they bring out the magnificent in the mundane: toys that come to life when no one is watching, a world existing entirely of cars, a restaurant which gets the help from a rat.
The second type of structure, when Pixar brings the mundane to the magnificent, is what drives the concept of Onward, it’s latest film which is just a delight and a wonderful film to gather the family around a television to check out.
The basic premise of Onward is silly and fascinating as we’re transported to a Dungeons & Dragons-style world where magic once existed until everyone found it too hard and decided to rely on the wonder of science. Dragons are now pets and, in one of the funniest gags in the film, unicorns are treated as pesky raccoons.
On his 16th birthday, shy elf Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) are given a present by their late father: a magic staff and a spell which will bring him back for 24 hours. For Ian, this allows him the chance to meet a man he’s never met before. For Barley, a loser who spends his time playing D&D and Magic: The Gathering games which tell of the magic that used to be, this is his way to embrace the things he loves.
Because it’s Disney (well, Pixar), things go wrong and the brothers must go on a quest in order to be able to complete the spell. Who they run into turns into that wonderful combination of the magical and the normal: a manticore (Octavia Spencer) that runs a restaurant, a step-father who is a centaur, biker fairies, a gremlin pawn shop owner… it’s everything from the old Disney films if they had day jobs.
This film falls right in the middle of Pixar’s catalog for me. There are lots of moments where director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) knows how to bring everything together, and is able to deliver a huge laugh or a very soft and tender moment. The movie certainly earns it’s emotional moments.
But, because it’s Pixar, it’s impossible not to compare it to the best the studio has given us, and it just doesn’t have the amazing, jaw-dropping moments with films like Wall-E, Ratatouille, Up or The Incredibles.
Is Onward up there with Pixar’s best? It isn’t. But, being in the middle is pretty damn good in this case… and that means a whole lot.