Onward movie review: Chris Pratt, Tom Holland and Disney Pixar will make you laugh and cry but not enough
Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast: Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
Two brothers set out to magically bring their dead father back to life and it’s exactly the tear-jerker pitch those geniuses at Pixar are always targeting. Fast forward a few years, we are watching Onward on the big screen and tears are indeed being shed. For any other film, me shedding two big fat tears would have meant an instant seal of quality but when it comes to Disney Pixar films, the bar is set too high. So it brings me no pleasure to inform you that Onward, despite being an emotional and enjoyable ride, takes its place on the lowest rung of the Pixar’s shelves.
Onward is set in a magical world from which, unfortunately, magic has disappeared due to the laziness its people. Instead of mastering spells or learning how to wield staffs, people gave in to the lure of creating light with bulbs, warming homes with heaters or entertaining themselves with the internet. Slowly, this world forgot about the existence of magic. However, their biologies did not change. This world is still inhabited by trolls who go to high school, centaurs and cyclops have joined the police force, and dragons are kept as pets while unicorns roam the streets and dive into people’s trash cans.
Watch the trailer for Onward:
Living in this world is an adorable family of elves, the stars of this story. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt reunite for the first time since the latter put a gun to the former’s head on that floating space donut in Avengers: Infinity War, to voice the two brothers Ian (Tom) and Barley (Chris). The young boys lost their father when Barley was just a toddler and Ian wasn’t even born. They live with their mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who comes closest to the cosiest, cuddliest pillow of an animated character you’ve ever seen.
While Barley is the carefree and careless nuisance of the town who is way too obsessed with the magical past, Ian is having a tough time at school making friends or just being confident in general. But on Ian’s 16th birthday, their mother hands the boys a gift left by their dead father. Now these weren’t letters about how to make your surviving parent fall for their college best friend but a magical staff to bring the dead parent back to life, just for a day. It’s never mentioned or asked how the father landed on such a fantastical object in the first place or how he knew which spells to use.
The boys, regardless, try out the spell but something goes wrong as they are greeted at their house by just the legs of their father. With a dog (dragon) leash around their dad’s waist and a pair of sunglasses tied to a pillow for his bust, they drag him around town, to taverns and to mountains like Satish Shah in a sari. The boys are looking for a way to bring the whole of him back to life so they could play catch, learn to drive, talk about their life or bid a final goodbye.
This Weekend at Bernie’s is loaded with chaotic moments, speedy chases, treasure hunts, action and adventure but the film’s most effective moments were the slower, more genuine moments between the two brothers. While Ian was surely the protagonist of this film, it was ‘screw-up’ Bailey who made the bigger impression. He was made even warmer by Pratt’s undeniably amazing skills as a voiceover star, now twice proven after The Lego Movie. He’s the overeager, excited, energetic but never annoying as the big brother who can make you feel gooey inside with his soft eyes and sincere words.
These tender, more emotionally moving moments arriving too little and too late into the film. A big portion of it is invested in the pursuit of a McGuffin while the journey offers only a few moments of real warmth. Even the jokes, are mostly inspired by juxtaposing the fantastical creatures against more regular scenarios. An elf in tights is working out to Jane Fonda-like workout videos on the telly, a Manticore is selling her swords to pawn shops, fairies have joined biker gangs or a centaur is taking his car to work. Soon, one gets accustomed of seeing these creature in a world like ours but the film hopes you’d still laugh at the absurdity of it even an hour later.
Onward, even though not among the best of Pixar films, is still more than watchable. It has a good, sweet and warm story about losing a parent and finding happiness in what one might call an incomplete family. It’s about two brothers and the precious love they share for each other. By the end of it, Ian and Bailey’s relationship feels real and hence, I awarded it with the two very well deserved tears from my eyes. Sure, it’s nothing compared to the buckets I filled over Coco. But then, I am sure nothing ever will be.
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