‘Onward’ movie review: Pixar's latest advocates for the everyday magic within us

In this image released by Disney/Pixar, characters Laurel, voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, from left, Ian, voiced by Tom Holland, and Barley, voiced by Chris Pratt, appear in a scene from Onward.   | Photo Credit: AP

Pixar films can change the way you see the world. Whether it is the symbiosis of art and critique, the afterlife and familial bonding, starting afresh in your twilight years, or humanising emotions ⁠— Pixar has a knack for dismantling perceptions. The imagination, at a conceptual and philosophical level, often transcends the creativity we see on-screen.

  • Director: Dan Scanlon
  • Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
  • Storyline: Two elf brothers set off an adventure trip to bring back their deceased father for a day

Pixar’s latest, Onward, has a similar goal —  it wants you to re-imagine family and advocates for everyday magic. But in this one, the audio-visual creativity on-screen supersedes the messaging, which is simple and personal, but hardly life-altering.

The film, which had its world premiere at the Berlinale 2020, begins in a time, long long ago, when there was magic in this world. All mythical creatures knew how to use magic, be free and explore. Over time, the magic started dying and civilisation, as we know it, tamed the creatures. This is the background of Onward, which follows the quest of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, to find a jewel that can bring back their dead father. The film functions on two levels, one where the mythical creatures, living in a suburban area, learn to tap into the magic they forgot they had, and other is a more personal one — the pursuit of an absentee father. While the film earnestly and successfully builds up the emotional crescendo with the two brothers, the attempt to reinvigorate magic in a suburban life (allegorically, the world we inhabit today) remains a rather neglected by-product. Onward's philosophy remains on the surface, and even predictable, which is not the level of emotional intelligence we expect from Pixar.

Once you make peace with the disappointment that this Pixar film doesn’t possess the transcendence of Ratatouille, Up or Inside Out, you can enjoy the temporality of the film: the world-building and wit. There are imaginative booby traps, invisible trust bridges, amusing spells and ample silly animation humour. An elf single mother dating a cop centaur, rough pixies riding bikes in groups and a tame manticore running what should have been a dangerous tavern, make for hilarious characters. There’s also a cyclopes police officer, who is touted to be Disney’s first-ever openly-lesbian cartoon character. She has one line that reveals her sexual orientation: “My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out.” Even though Russia reportedly has censored ‘girlfriend’ to ‘partner’, the one line isn’t worthy of being glorified as representation in 2020. Its inadequacy and inconsequentiality make it seem more of a publicity bait than genuine inclusion.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 3:48:30 AM |

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