Pixar has been known for really revolutionising children’s animated storytelling. They frequently find fresh and original ideas and tell stories with more mature themes. Even when the films aren’t extraordinary they often surprise with the central message. Just look at something like Cars 3 that steered away from the traditional old sports person giving it one last shot and went for something far more touching instead.
I do have to admit I was a little apprehensive going into Onward. The idea of a modern day fantasy world, whilst fun, is hardly original. On top of that none of the trailers for the film were anything special. But Pixar has only made two bad films so far. Instead a lot of Pixar’s weaker films are usually solid family films with some great moments that you could put up against most animation studios films. And for a long time Onward felt just like that.
Following two brothers Ian and Barley. Ian is insecure and introverted, whilst Barley is far more outgoing but is looked on as a bit of a failure. On Ian’s 16th birthday their mother gives them a gift from their deceased father, a magic staff and a spell that can bring someone back for one day. After an initial attempt that only brings back their father’s lower half they have to set out on a quest to find another magical gem to complete the spell.
And it’s a pretty fun journey that plays with the setting well. A questing tavern that’s become a family theme restaurant and a fairy biker gang are the particular highlights. But whilst a lot of this is cool it rarely feels exceptional. Pixar has been known to really hit you with moving moments and big feelings, but a lot of the film doesn’t have that at all. There’s a nice dynamic between the two brothers, but the really powerful message of the film doesn’t come through until the end of the film.
Much like Cars 3 I thought that the film was going in one direction, and not an exciting or original one, but the actual finale was fantastic. It took the film in a direction that I think is far more impactful for people watching, and really moved me when watching. The finale of Onward absolutely delivered the kind of filmmaking you expect from Pixar, it’s just a shame that the rest of the film wasn’t as impactful.