A tenderly crafted, wonderfully narrated & sumptuously animated fairy quest from the greatest animation studio on the planet, Onward marks another forward step for Pixar and is another winning entry in their singularly impressive body of work. Although the film isn’t as groundbreaking as their finest creative efforts, it still embarks its audience on an incessantly fun, exciting & entertaining adventure packed with magic, wonder & excitement, and will delight & appease most viewers, if not all.
Set in a world inhabited by mythical creatures where magic was once commonplace but now obsolete in the wake of technological advancement, Onward follows two teenage elf brothers who come across a magical way to bring back their deceased father for a single day but manage to resurrect only the lower half of his body before the spell breaks. With limited time in their hands, the brothers set out on a journey to find the missing artefact that would allow them to finish the spell and spend one final moment with their father.
Directed by Dan Scanlon (Monsters University), the story is derived from his own personal loss and addresses themes of family, brotherhood & longing for father-son connection. The first act takes a while getting used to as Scanlon establishes the fundamentals of this suburban fantasy world but it does get better as plot progresses. However, there is a subplot that this film could have done without as it doesn’t bring anything of value to the table and sort of disturbs the strong emotional payoff that the main plot had set up to be resolved in the final act.
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The world-building isn’t entirely captivating and even though the effort is there, it is one aspect that isn’t realized to its full potential. As is the norm with Pixar Animation Studios, the computer animation is absolutely dazzling, rendering each frame & every detail in a meticulous fashion. Adding further polish to Onward’s imagery is the outstanding camerawork, making fab use of vibrant colour palette & excellent lighting to make the images pop out. The siblings’ dynamic & bonding is the real highlight, treated with enough care, honesty & authenticity to make us invest in their quest.
The two brothers are voiced by Tom Holland & Chris Pratt, and their effortless chemistry together is what makes them click so well. Both of them play their roles with finesse, and even their exchanges exhibit the brotherliness touch that works out in favor of the film. Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Octavia Spencer also lend their voices but it is Holland & Pratt who carry this film for the most part. Being an adventure, there are several thrilling moments in store here, some hilarious in their own ways while others strongly evoking its sense of danger. But it is in the quieter, reflective moments where the story finds its sure footing.
On an overall scale, Onward implements Pixar’s success formula to a good effect, and is an original, heartfelt, poignant, amusing & touching fable whose main shortcoming is its inability to measure up to the studio’s crowning achievements. Nonetheless, it delivers a fun-filled, family-friendly & emotionally fulfilling extravaganza that most viewers won’t complain about. For any other studio, this would be a supreme feature film on most fronts: creative, imaginative & powerfully moving. Yet for Pixar, their latest is a secondary effort at best due to the insanely high standard the animation juggernaut has set over the years with its immaculate blend of quality emotional storytelling & pioneering animation. All in all, despite not ranking amongst Pixar’s best films, Onward comes definitely recommended.