The latest Pixar animation, Onward is heartfelt, slickly executed and potently effective as both a rousing adventure and a tear-jerker. But compared to the very best of Pixar’s output, this can’t help but feel like second tier stuff. Set in a world in which magic has atrophied from lack of use, where unicorns are trash-scavenging vermin, where chubby centaurs rely on four wheels rather than galloping forth on four legs, Onward is, like so many Pixar movies before it, a deft blend of fanciful and relatable.
The backdrop, rendered in a purple-heavy palette that looks like a visual representation of acute sinus pain, is a stridently realised fantasy world; the story is down to earth and domestic, exploring the frayed bond between two brothers, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt, exuberant), who lost their father before they got to know him. It’s the emotional rather than the visual element that does the heavy lifting.
A posthumous magical gift left for the sons gives them the chance to bring the father back from the dead for one day only. But the boys botch the spell and summon just the lower half of their father. This is not as macabre as it might have been: reanimated Pops is filled with a soft glow of enchantment rather than slopping entrails and viscera. But, hoping for closure or at least a few words of conversation, the boys set off on a perilous journey to finish the spell.
The key elements – a quest, a newfound respect in an antagonistic relationship – are familiar from pretty much every Pixar from Toy Story onwards. But perhaps the closest thematic parallels are with Inside Out: both pictures, after all, are about negotiating a bump in the road of childhood. But while Inside Out is dizzyingly inventive, Onward feels a touch derivative at times: the world in which it unfolds is not a million troll-steps away from that of Shrek.
Still, the emotional impact is true and clean. The fractious bond between the brothers and their aching anger at the loss of a parent are evoked with exquisite sorrow and clarity.
Source: The Guardian