As I sat through a bunch of trailers that mostly consisted of remakes and sequels, it made me glad that I came to watch an original movie instead, especially from Disney/Pixar. Especially Disney. I recently heard that Bambi is next on their surreal progression to make live action remakes of everything they’ve created. Who is the sick, twisted person who thinks it’s a good idea to traumatize a new generation of kids by showing Bambi’s mom getting shot in live action?
Fortunately, in this film, the mom’s still alive. Dad on the other hand…
Onward is an entertaining film about two brothers on a magical quest. Pixar never delved into brotherly relationships before, and it was nice to see this dynamic after the sisterly bond from Disney’s Frozen II. Unlike Anna and Elsa, I found the brothers from Onward, Ian and Barley, played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, more engaging. I also thought their relationship to be the best part of the movie. Ian is shy and doesn’t have much confidence in himself, while Barley is extremely confident and keeps getting into trouble. With these conflicting personalities, the two play off of each other well.
The story is about Ian and Barley trying to bring their dad back to life. Unfortunately, they’re only able to bring back his legs, so the brothers go on a quest in search of a gem that would return the rest of their dad. However, they have a limited amount of time to do so, and so they have to race against the clock.
While on the road, the brothers come across vibrant characters such as a manticore and pixies, but in the world that we’re thrown in, the magical elements are minimal, as technology has taken over.
The setting reminds me of Zootopia, in which anthropomorphic creatures naturally adapt to a modern environment. In Zootopia, all sorts of animals adapt themselves to city life and fit right in. In Onward, creatures such as elves, centaurs, cyclops and pixies all live in modern times where magic and other special abilities are seldom used. Centaurs run fast, yet they use cars. Pixies can fly, yet they use bikes.
Ian and Barley are elves but…there’s not much to it. There isn’t a reason for them to be elves, they could’ve been human and it wouldn’t make a difference. It would’ve been cool if elves had certain abilities like enhanced sight and hearing and the brothers take that as an advantage on their quest. But considering that Ian can use a magical staff, I suppose it isn’t really necessary. Still, it would be interesting to know what separates an elf from a human besides pointy ears and blue skin.
In speaking of elves, I thought the mom, Laurel — played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus — was a delight. Though, I found it jarring that the brothers didn’t take her on their quest. Before the quest, we’re shown that Laurel’s just as adventurous as her son, Barley. Heck, she’s even into the universe’s equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons.
So, instead of asking her if she wants to go on a magical quest in order to bring back her dead husband, the brothers leave her a note and don’t tell her where they’re going. Again, I found it jarring. I understand if Ian didn’t want to get his mom involved, but Barley? He wants to drag Ian into everything, so why not his mom? Maybe if she was against quests and magic it would’ve made sense, but this wasn’t the case.
Onward gives us Disney’s first openly gay character, which is odd because I swore LeFou from 2017’s Beauty and the Beast was Disney’s “first.” I suppose Disney wants us to forget that film exists, it’s probably for the best.
Anyhow, we’re introduced to Officer Specter, voiced by Lena Waithe. She’s a cyclops who provides only a few lines of dialogue, one of which she mentions a girlfriend. This is an easily missed line, and this is an easily forgetful character (I had to google her name since I forgot). So, is Disney/Pixar taking a good step into representing the LGBTQ community? Eh…maybe?
If they really want to be progressive, they should make a more important character LGBTQ. That would be better representation, instead of a very minor and forgettable character. She doesn’t even have a good design. Granted, most of the character designs are fairly generic. Maybe if she was an elf like the brothers, it would’ve been more tolerable. Elves are the closest we got to humans in this world, after all. So, making Specter an elf and giving her more scenes could’ve added more to her character.
As far as other aspects of diversity, some of the characters are voiced by people of color. The Manticore is voiced by Octavia Spencer, and Laurel’s police officer boyfriend, Officer Bronco, is voiced by Mel Rodriguez. Regardless of the small amount of diversity, it’s still a strong cast and they all do excellent voice work.
Overall, I had a good time with Onward. As far as Pixar films, it’s better than their latest films, but I wouldn’t rank it too high. Pixar is notorious for rendering people of all ages into a sobbing mess, but they didn’t get me this time. Regardless, there are impactful moments in the film, particularly one where Ian looks over a checklist. While the film didn’t hit me as emotionally as I wanted it to, I still enjoyed it. I simply wish there was a little more, particularly with the world building. Heck, I even forgot the name of the town the characters are from. Or perhaps I’m just bad at remembering things.
Movie review originally published by Lauren Massuda on March 17, 2020.