Onward is a really fascinating movie to me. First of all, it’s one of the two movies Pixar released in 2020 (the other being the Oscar winning Soul (2020, my review here)) and I remember when it hit the VOD (as this was also one of those movies, that because of the pandemic, was simultaneously in the theatres and also available online) everybody seemed to love it, until Soul came around. That is when I have noticed almost a shift, where people felt the need to compare these two vastly different movies. And I even though I understand that impulse (after all, it makes sense, as Pixar is such a great “brand”, and they don’t usually release two movies in one year) I don’t think it’s necessarily fair. Even though it needs to be said, Onward is slightly weaker, than what we are used to from Pixar (oh shit, I am doing too, aren’t I)?
Let start with the good things first – I really liked the overall ideas here (magical beings got lazy, so the magic is almost gone) the overall message about how you don’t need a dad, if you have a pretty great brother that steps up and is there for you was also heart-warming and something, that’s on point with Pixar’s “branding” – stories, that deal with really serious, adult themes, told in a form everyone from your family can enjoy, doesn’t matter if they are 5, or 65.
I also liked most of the voice over casting – Tom Holland was great, I couldn’t recognize Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but the moment I realised (well, looked up) who voices the mom character, it clicked and Octavia Spencer was also a delight to listen. The brighter readers might have noticed, that I didn’t name the fourth main actor, and that is because he is the reason behind “liked most of the voice over casting”. Chris Pratt seems like a chilled dude, who I really like and enjoy seeing. I don’t think his voice is annoying, no. But I don’t think he was the correct choice for this character (brother who is supposed to be only couple of years older than Tom Holland’s character) as he sounded way older. And that is because he’s 43 years old (so he was around 41 when he voiced this character). Which is not old by any stretch of imagination, I am not saying that. But to me, this was equivalent of seeing a high school comedy, where all the characters are portrayed by actors in their mid 20’s, early 30’s. Some can pull it off better than others and even though I usually am down with anything Chris Pratt is doing, in here, his voice didn’t jive with me. Maybe it’s because he has such a recognisable voice, you know he’d his way, way older brother…?
But he’s not the reason why I think Onward is weaker of the Pixar movies, even though it’s weaker by a speck of dust. The main thing that bothered me a bit more was the predictability of the movie. If you think about it, Pixar is known for having ordinary stories told in extra-ordinary way. For example, Inside Out (2015), one of my absolute favourites done by them, is a pretty simple idea (emotions having emotions) done in extra-ordinary way (it’s colourful, out here and the main story is about how it feels to grow up, feeling all alone, dealing with a lot of complicated feelings in early age). And this film seem to have swapped the formula around – they started with extra-ordinary premise (magic exists, but it’s hardly used, as with technology, magical beings just got lazier) told in pretty ordinary fashion. Because nothing in here will surprise you. There is no unexpectedly great joke, there is no sneakily great scene or lesson. And even the story follows quite straightforward formula, where you know exactly what will happen in the next 5 minutes. The problem with your narrative being as predictable as it was here, you need to something, to blow us away with, the “big pay off”, the climax of the story. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I did say the ending was heart-warming, but I didn’t say you couldn’t see it coming miles away. And that’s something that usually doesn’t happen to me with Pixar movies. Yeah, I am doing it again, comparing Pixar movies against each other. In my defence, it’s hard not too, when they have a really great track record.
Movie like Onward fall into something I call “the Pixar paradox” – if the exact same film with the exactly same story came out from a different studio (like DreamWorks or Illumination) we would be all over it, praising it for being “Pixar-like”, without being the same and it would have been pretty much the highlight for that studio (maybe not for DreamWorks, but definitely for Illumination). Instead of that, since this film is associated with the power house of Pixar, it allows us to compare it “like for like” with their other movies, and unfortunately, even though it’s still pretty outstanding movie, it just doesn’t compare with their “big boys”.
Overall, Onward is worth seeing. Especially if you are into Dungeons & Dragons or fantasy movies, as this film is definitely inspired by plenty of elements from modern fantasy/magic pop-culture. It’s also a cute story about what it means to have somebody by/on your side, even if that somebody isn’t your dad. If you judge this film on its own, it’s definitely a great animated movie with a nice message. If you judge it against most of Pixar’s movie catalogue, it would probably be in their bottom half of movies, quality wise. But as I mentioned before, even that half is exceptionally great. After all, Pixar’s “pretty good” is another studio’s “excellent”.
That’s all for this one! Did you see it? What did you think about it? Let me know!
Until next time,