The last time Pixar released two films in the same year was 2015. The first of their double act ended up being one of their best, Inside Out. A touching, beautifully animated adventure that ranks highly alongside Up, Wall.E and of course the Toy Story series.
Unfortunately, their second effort, The Good Dinosaur was by all accounts, a bit of a mess. Released by any other animation studio, The Good Dinosaur would have been perfectly serviceable, but it lacked the usual Pixar sparkle, despite some incredible animation.
Fast forward five years and Pixar are at it again; releasing two films in the same year. Soul is out in cinemas later in 2020, but our first contender is Onward. But is it up to the standard of Pixar’s classics, or more akin to their forgettable adventures?
Two teenage elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot, go on a journey to discover if there is still a little magic left out there in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.
You can always rely on Pixar to create visually striking films and that’s also the case here. Onward benefits from its fantasy setting, which allows the animators to really go to town in creating a hugely colourful and immersive world that is so typical of the studio. The world they have built turns the ideas of magic and wizardry on its head, blending them with the modern world that we live in every day.
It’s an interesting premise, though one which isn’t explored quite as much as I’d like. Seeing stereotypical magical tropes being turned upside down is fascinating as the city of New Mushroomton deals with the onslaught of technology, much like we have today. No longer are unicorns seen as magical beasts, instead being relegated to city vermin and centaurs struggle with their health as cars render their running capabilities obsolete.
The voice cast too is on point here. Chris Pratt and Tom Holland don’t have much experience in the animated arena but perform very well indeed. Animated voice over work is notoriously difficult for actors who are used to live-action but the fact that their characters are modelled on them somewhat helps. Octavia Spencer pops up now and again as a manticore while Grey Griffin steals the show as a grouchy pixie biker clan.
While the story is a little light on its feet at times (this is after all, just a road trip movie in a fantastical setting), Onward features enough of that trademark warmth and emotional depth that we’ve come to know and love from Pixar. It’s also genuinely funny, and probably one of the studio’s funniest films to date.
While Onward won’t be troubling the very top ranks of the studio’s filmography, it definitely won’t be troubling the bottom rungs of that ladder either
The aforementioned pixie biker clan is a real highlight and there’s a hilarious highway chase that had the audiences in stitches of laughter – the details of which I shan’t spoil here.
The finale is typical Pixar, with a final flourish of action peppered by a touching and hugely sentimental closing scene that while not managing to bring a tear on this occasion, was still thought-provoking enough.
At 103 minutes in length, this is one of Pixar’s shorter films and it shows. This incredible world that has clearly taken years to create isn’t explored enough despite the brothers setting off on their amazing quest together. It would have been nice to have seen more of the setting before the main plot of the film begins to move.
Nevertheless, after years of mediocre sequels, Pixar seems to have found its feet again. While Onward won’t be troubling the very top ranks of the studio’s filmography, it definitely won’t be troubling the bottom rungs of that ladder either.
It does everything you could ask for from a modern animated film and I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing Ian and Barley and the world of New Mushroomton again in the future.
This is also the first film from the studio since Disney purchased Fox and instead of the usual Pixar short, The Simpsons join the House of Mouse instead with ‘Maggie’s Playdate’ bring the short film of choice. It’s a little jarring at first seeing the world famous family on the big screen again, especially tied to a Pixar movie, but the short itself is nice if a little forgettable.