REVIEW: Onward

I’m a goddamn sucker for a Pixar movie. Don’t judge me when I say this, but… The very first Blu-ray disc I ever bought was Cars 2. There, I said it.

They’re right – the first step to recovery is being honest with yourself and others. It feels good.

My expectations for Pixar’s 22nd feature film, Onward, were pretty sky-high; they’d cast two of the main actors – Tom Holland and Chris Pratt – from history’s biggest film, and landed them roles as blue elves. This pretty much just prints its own money, doesn’t it?

And yet, having seen it, I was left kind of deflated. Don’t get me wrong – it’s nowhere near the depressing levels of Cars 2; especially when the Blu-ray disc tragically cost me, like, £20. But it’s also nowhere near the likes of its recent wins, such as Inside Out, Coco or Toy Story 4.

Naturally, I’ve cried at every single Pixar film to-date. I sobbed as Bing Bong shamelessly sacrificed himself in order for Riley to find happiness again. I wailed at the heartbreaking montage between Carl and Ellie opens Up. And don’t even get me started at the tears I shed as I handed over a crisp £20 note to the cashier at HMV, in exchange for Cars 2 on Blu-ray.

Onward is no different. Without going into spoiler territory, I will say that I believe Onward actually focussed on its emotional plot more than its fun, comical whimsy. There are funny moments which kids will enjoy, of course, but Onward feels like a movie for adults; the sad, emotional moments really won’t get to the younger audiences.

In fact, I’d say the first act tugs at the heartstrings a lot more than it does to offer any form of joke or gag. Looking back, I can’t remember a single quip in the beginning, but I do recall a beautiful moment as Tom Holland’s Ian, who lost his father at childbirth, gazes at a tape recorder, playing a conversation his father had, only for him (Ian) to fill in the missing moments, as if the two of them were talking. I’d already used about four boxes of Kleenex at this point.

Anyone who’s seen the trailer will know the basic premise of Onward – two elves use magic in an attempt to bring their dead father back, only for the spell to go wrong, and for them to be left with his legs… And nothing else. Even this quite silly moment was filled with heart, as Ian’s father’s legs meets his two sons – the other, Barley, brilliantly played by Chris Pratt – since his death.

It’s not until we meet the secondary, supporting characters that we get a sense of humour in Onward. Octavia Spencer is a fucking scene-stealer. If you’ve seen her in anything – from The Help to Zootopia – she will steal your scenes; Onward is no different. The Academy Award-winner stars as The Manticore (who, hilariously, has the first name ‘The’ and the surname ‘Manticore’), a once-fierce and ferocious warrior, but who now owns and runs her own restaurant. Octavia’s Manticore is a much-needed comic relief; without her, I’d have dehydrated from the eyes long ago.

Unfortunately, I worry that a lot of the best gags have been used for the trailer. As I’ve previously mentioned, we’d see The Manticore running her own restaurant. We’d also seen another big, comical moment – when Ian accidentally shrinks his brother, instead of growing the gasoline can next to him. These scenes were long, and relatively reliant on these jokes, that we’d already seen in the trailer. (Having just looked now, only 6.6 million people had seen the first Onward trailer on YouTube, so that’s not too many, right? Right?

My other concern is that, while I liked the concept of the world of fairytale and make-believe meeting our world of technology, haven’t I already seen it before in Shrek 2? In a way, I feel like Shrek 2 – which was released 16 years before Onward – did it better. There were so many funny cultural references to spot, such as shops being called Versarchery and films simply being renamed to Lethal Arrow 3. We didn’t get this in Onward; instead, there just were gas stations and grocery stores. They were just… There. I appreciate that this may not have suited Pixar tonally, but if you weren’t going to go the whole hog, we probably could have just had a fairytale story without the modern day technology…

Onward is a good film. If it wasn’t a Pixar film, I’d have probably said it was one of the best movies of the year, but – unfortunately – it is a Pixar film, and when it’s against history’s greatest animated movies, it’s hard to compete. It’s like putting Usain Bolt in a room with a rocket and a cheetah on steroids – he’s good, but will Usain really come out on top? Probably not. The cheetah would eat him, to be honest.

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