Released March 6, Pixar’s “Onward” hit theaters with very little fanfare to say the least. There were very few trailers that made the rounds online, and for that matter, there were many people who had very little idea that it was even coming out, despite being a Pixar film and having an all-star cast.
Considering the absolute quality of the animation, voice acting and most of all story, this is completely flabbergasting. “Onward” is quickly becoming the sleeper hit of March, and people are continuing to talk about it for good reason.
“Onward” tells the story of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, on their quest to bring their deceased father back for one day with a spell he left the boys before he passed. While this sounds like it would be a medieval adventure story, that’s only half the story.
In true Pixar fashion, they ask the question of what would happen if a fantasy world progressed just as our real world did, so in the world of “Onward,” these elves, centaurs, pixies and the like are all using modern technology in a twist that makes this a truly unique world to tell a story in.
Pixar seems to have nailed the balance between photorealism and cartoon expressionism much more in “Onward” than in previous movies.
As technology revolving around simulations of light and more concrete natural processes have advanced greatly in the past years, there was some disconnect between the characters that Pixar was designing and the worlds they inhabited. A perfect example of this was “The Good Dinosaur,” which, apart from having a depressing story that appealed to neither kids or adults, looked like it had very low-detailed, rendered characters living in an almost photorealistic world.
“Onward” is somehow able to make the backgrounds and environments highly detailed without entering this almost uncanny valley level of realism in “The Good Dinosaur.”
It also helps that the character models seem much more detailed in “Onward,” keeping some kind of continuity between the characters and their worlds.
“Onward” is a very emotional film to say the least. This comes as no surprise if you have ever seen any Pixar movie ever, but this one almost takes the cake for stirring the most emotions.
While “Toy Story 3” has its fair share of “happy cry” moments, the majority of the movie is just plain sad. When you’re in the mood for that, it’s a perfect movie, but where “Onward” succeeds is that it walks the line between sad and bittersweet expertly throughout the whole movie, and bittersweet is the best way to describe “Onward.”
It’s not a feel-good movie in the traditional sense, but if you walk out of the theaters with dry eyes, there is a good chance that you need to get your tear ducts looked at.
The majority of the emotional weight of the movie is carried on Tom Holland’s shoulders, and he bears the responsibility with expert precision. While the other performances of the movie are all excellent, especially Chris Pratt and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Holland brings a nuance and gentleness to his character that is completely different from anything else he has played.
While there are some immediate parallels that can be made to his character here and Peter Parker on a more superficial level, Holland approaches the performances in completely different ways, and he is able to make this very apparent through just his voice.
There is a lot that can be said about the multiple messages of “Onward.” The base-level message that the film seems to tell is that while technology has its time and place, sometimes the old fashioned way to do something is the best way.
While that is certainly a point that the movie is trying to make, there are more subtle messages that come through as you look deeper into the movie that range from “try not to compare yourself to your parents because we’re all different people” to “don’t take the people in your life for granted.”
The great thing about movies like “Onward” is that there is no one singular message that can be taken from it, and depending on what kind of experiences viewers are coming into the theater with, they can pull a completely different message from the movie than anyone else in the theater.
Overall, “Onward” is a fun, adventure-filled romp that has a surprising amount of heart that can appeal to a wide range of ages. There is plenty of substance to make it more than “just another kids movie” and it is refreshing to see these kinds of family friendly films continuing to be made and continuing to make money.