Yep, we are definitely getting old. This year, still in its relative infancy, marks 25 years of the magic and groundbreaking work of Pixar and in those two and a half decades, it’s safe to say we have been through the ringer a few times. From their extraordinary beginnings in 1995 with a little known film called Toy Story, through adventures with monsters, rat chefs, little robots, a superhero family or a good dinosaur, their ingenuity and exploration of animation has been unrivalled and going into their 26th year, they are gracing us with two new treats. Soul is due in the Autumn but first we are off on a quest, a quest that asks “If you could bring anyone back for one day, who would it be? And would you do it?”
Onward, the new effort from Monsters University (hugely underrated) director Dan Scanlon, asks such questions whilst delivering a touching, honest portrayal of grieving, growing pains and family. Drawing from the loss of his own father at a young age, this tells of brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot who have both struggled to find peace since their father was taken too young and would love nothing more than to see him again. On Ian’s 18th birthday, a present opens their eyes to endless possibilities through magic, and a treacherous quest may allow them to reunite with him, even for a fleeting final goodbye.
As with most Pixar efforts, Onward is an energetic, mesmerising accomplishment that sees the studio soar new heights with some of the visuals they create here. An opening intro scene puts us firmly into a fairytale world of wizards, witches, goblins, manticores and one-eyed men before exploding open into a soaring metropolis of, erm, wizards, witches and the rest just with added Trollios cereal (one of many brilliant sight gags through the film that encompasses Harry Potter, lots of 80s films and, of course, Dungeons and Dragons). Wonderfully detailed and truly beautiful, the colours pop and the world is majestic and, frankly, we didn’t want to leave.
Where the film falls short a little in its emotional impact which, somewhat surprisingly, doesn’t quite hit in the way we would usually expect from Pixar. That’s not to say it isn’t touching and moving but the moments that are meant to hit the hardest just don’t quite. It’s not down to any specific reason, it just falls a little short – the cast is great, the script sharp and funny, the themes of letting go, embracing adulthood and the changes that come from it but especially in its big crescendo moments, falls a little flat.
This is by no means Pixar at their soaring best – Wall-E, Monsters Inc, Up and the rest – and judged as such, Onward isn’t anywhere close to the brilliance of those films but it isn’t trying to be. This is a personal film, smaller in scope and scale in some ways despite its vastness, and telling a story of relationships and family and for what it is, this is still a pretty good film that kids and families will enjoy. It’s just that such are the standards set, this quest lands just short of true glory.
Adventure, Comedy, Animation | USA, 2020 | U | 6th March 2020 (UK) | Disney Pixar | Dir.Dan Scanlon | Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Lena Waithe