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“Onward” and Upwards!

A cute, yet nerdy, teenage Tom Holland with powers goes on an all mighty adventure, having to use the bravery he had within himself the entire time to save the day. Sounds familiar, right? Well this isn’t a review for Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, but instead, Disney Pixar’s Onward. I was able to finagle a ticket to an advanced screening of Pixar’s latest flick and I’m not going to lie, I did tear up a bit towards the end.
Onward follows Ian and Barley Lightfoot, two elf brothers who are given a phoenix gem. This magical gem, when mixed with the staff of a wizard, is able to bring their deceased father back to life for 24 hours. All goes wrong when the gem only brings back their father’s legs, forcing Ian and Barley to embark on a quest to find another phoenix gem. The journey brings the two dissimilar brothers closer together while they combat pixies, trick cops, and solve seemingly unsolvable puzzles.
Coming off the heels of this summer’s release of Frozen II, Onward somewhat follows in Frozen’s footsteps by telling a tale of two unlikely siblings coming together, but this time instead of two sisters, it’s two brothers. The film is extremely engaging and full of heart! Ian is a very relatable character who definitely feels like an outsider. While Barley’s zaniness and charismatic antics are the antithesis to Ian’s scared, cautious personality; just imagine a full length feature film about Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie traveling around a fantastical world and you’ve got Pixar’s Onward.

Growing up, I remember thinking that Pixar’s 3D-like animation was a cut above the more common 2D animated films. As more Pixar films were released, Pixar’s animation style progressed, providing more detail and realness to its animation; I mean, have you ever compared Merida’s hair from Brave to the hair of the humans of Toy Story? Mind blowing improvement. So I was somewhat disappointed when Onward looked more like a regular computer animated movie instead of having Pixar’s trademark detailed animation. Don’t get me wrong, the animation was fine, but I would have appreciated if Pixar had stepped it up a notch and given the fantastical creatures the same detail as it does its other movies. But I guess not all animation can be as good as Bulbasaur from Detective Pikachu (2019).

As far as diversity in Onward, there isn’t much at the forefront, the two main characters both being voiced by white males. However, the cast is small and a good portion of its characters are voiced by people of color. Octavia Spencer is one of them and she voices the fourth most important character out of a cast of eleven, followed closely by Mel Rodriguez who voices Officer Bronco, a centaur police officer, and the boyfriend of Ian and Barley’s elf mother.

Onward does give Disney fans the first ever confirmation of an LGBTQIA+ character in the Disney-verse. Officer Spector, a female police officer voiced by Lena Waithe, tells Officer Bronco that her girlfriend’s kids are always driving her crazy. It’s only a small moment in the film but it is verbal confirmation that this character is indeed part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Pixar making a point to include her sexual orientation in the movie is a step in the right direction on Disney’s part and is a baby step towards LGBTQIA+ representation. Especially since, unless you read about it online, no one watching the 2017 live action remake of Beauty and the Beast ever outright confirmed that LeFou was gay. Since I saw an advanced screening of the film, there is still a chance Disney could take out the scene before the movie’s release. I will be devastated if Pixar makes that decision! Disney is an enormous corporation and really should be doing more regarding inclusion in media.

Originally published on March 8, 2020.

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