Onward is the story of two teenage elves, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt respectively. They live in a magical land that over the years has lost sight of its magical and mythological roots as technology has taken over. The boys' father passed away when they were very young from a terminal illness. As the shy and self conscious Ian turns 16, he finds himself longing for his dad. His gregarious older brother, Barley, lives at home and has a passion for a game based in their land's history, which is highly reminiscent of Dungeons and Dragons. Their mother gives the boys a gift left by their father before he passed which is a magical staff with instructions on how to perform a spell that will bring him back for one day. However, when they try the spell, the magic is a little too powerful for just Ian alone, so the gem that powers the staff crumbles halfway through leaving their dad as just a pair of legs. In order to complete the spell, the brother duo sets out on a quest to find and replace the gem for a chance to talk to their dad one more time.
Pixar is well known for being able to punch you right in the feelings with nearly every release, but this one missed that special Pixar punch for me. It had its emotional moments (even getting a bit of a tear forming at one moment), but the story didn't resonate with me the way I'd hoped. It may be because I don't have a sibling, nor have I (thankfully) ever lost a parent. I'm sad to say it just fell very flat for me.
What I can compliment is the absolutely gorgeous animation. The landscapes, skies and lighting were stunning. The strides Pixar continues to make in their technical skills with each theatrical release does not go unnoticed. The way they brought their dad to life as just a pair of legs was also an amazing achievement and may be the best of the film. What was most striking to me about Dad was how much more depth and nuance he had over his kids who were intended to drive the story. The way he communicated through his shoes was really touching... and the stuffed sweatshirt Ian created to stand in as his upper half was very cleverly animated bringing some genuine laughs.
One severe criticism I have about Onward is that this is being touted as the first Pixar movie to feature a LGBTQ character. Lena Waithe voices the police offer who has a girlfriend, but that was the extent of the depiction. It was one throwaway line about raising her girlfriend's daughter. It felt so shoehorned and thoughtless. This scene was about as groundbreaking as Avengers:Endgame featuring director Joe Russo as a gay man in a small support group scene with Captain America. While I appreciate Disney making these strides to represent this community, it's very clear that Disney is trying to be progressive but not so much so that conservative parents will backlash. None of this has been substantial enough for Disney to be hanging its proverbial hat on. The LGBTQ+ community deserves better. Hopefully we'll get meaningful representation in the near future, but this wasn't it.
While there are plenty commendable messages throughout the movie from believing in yourself, finding your inner strength, sacrifice, and the importance of family... Onward didn't pack the emotional punch you'd expect from a Pixar film. If you have lost a parent or have siblings, this may hit differently, so fair warning on both fronts. In the end, the animation was brilliant and I did enjoy the movie, but I would maybe wait for this one to stream on Disney+. Either way, it's definitely not a bad time!
Brit's Tip: As with all Pixar films, you do get a short before the movie. This one was actually The Simpsons which was a bit jarring for me. I haven't gotten used to The Simpsons being a Disney product since the acquisition 21st Century Fox by Disney last year. It's a very cute little story featuring Maggie, so if you're going to see this one in a theater, get there in time to watch it!