For all the success Pixar have had with the sequels to their most popular movies (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Monsters University, and er, Cars), the animation studio are arguably at their very best when coming up with new ideas and stories.
Some of their very best movies have been stand-alone films - WALL-E, Up, Inside Out, Coco... these movies have managed to find the sweet spot between entertaining and emotional, and happily, Onward continues this wonderful tradition.
With Onward, director Dan Scanlon (who directed one of the aforementioned sequels, Monsters University) takes what feels like an intensely personal story and transforms it into a whimsical, fantastical journey that will have you laughing and crying in equal amounts.
Set in a fantasy world that was once full of magic and wonder, but has been replaced by modern technology and cultures, the story revolves around the somewhat timid Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) and his goofy, history-loving, hard rocker elder brother Barley (Chris Pratt), whose father died when they were very young.
When Ian turns 16, their mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) hands them a present from their father – a magic staff, along with a spell that will bring back a dead loved one for one day only. When Ian tries out the spell, however, something goes wrong and only the bottom half of their father returns. So, Ian and Barley decide to go on a quest to find a missing item that will help complete the spell.
Like most Pixar movies, the synopsis doesn't really do the film justice. Onward is more than just a straightforward quest of two brothers searching for a MacGuffin - it is also an exciting, adventurous ride that pushes all sorts of emotional buttons. It's a movie that will have you tearing up at several points of the film for different reasons - sadness, triumph, happiness, or just plain exhilaration.
The chemistry between Holland and Pratt is really what elevates the show to a different level. No strangers to one another thanks to their involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Spider-Man and Star-Lord respectively, the contrast between the introverted Ian and the brash but lovable Barley is striking, but there is never a single doubt that these two are brothers.
The 'modernised fantasy world' setting is also rich with so many visual gags that at times you can't help but let your eyes wander around as you try to pick out any potential Easter eggs that might be lying around. It's the sort of movie that deserves to be watched again and again just so you can fully absorb all the details of this magical world.
It's also a setting that gives us some memorable supporting characters, including Mel Rodriguez's centaur police officer, Octavia Spencer's formerly fearsome Manticore (now fearful restaurant owner) and a biker gang of flightless fairies that the brothers run into.
As far as Pixar movies go, I wouldn't count Onward as one of its best. But don't get me wrong, even if that's the case, Pixar's output is so consistently strong that Onward still stands head and shoulders above most of the output from other animation studios. It won't bring you to infinity and beyond, but it will still take you onward and upward on a magical journey.
Watch it once for the feels, watch it twice for the details
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