Warning: Spoilers. This review is also kind of long. I’m kind of pissed.
What the heck happened with Pixar?
This is a company that produced a nearly dialogue-less film about two robots falling in love; a movie about a rat who pursues his dream of becoming a chef; and a movie about an old man trying to find solace following his wife’s death.
But for the past decade their films have been mostly mediocre sequels with the only exceptions being Toy Story 3, Coco and Inside Out. So, it shouldn’t have surprised me that this once vibrant and unique studio produced a pretty bland adventure tale that’s perfectly fine.
Onward severely lacks that Pixar charm that endears the other movies to its audience. But even when I look at the film on its own, I find it to be flawed, predictable and boring, with a severely underutilized setting and too much wasted potential.
Of course, if you’ve seen the previews, you know that this film follows two elf brothers -the awkward, shy Ian and the boisterous Barley – who discover a spell that will bring their deceased father back to life for a day. They only manage to bring back his lower half and must go on a journey to bring back the rest of him before time runs out.
The movie takes place in what’s basically the fairy tale world in the 21st century: elves, cyclopes, centaurs and pixies that inhabit a world with cars, planes, motorcycles and fast-food restaurants.
Magic has been relegated to a myth and those that believe in it are basically conspiracy theorists. At least it’s not a sequel…
What kind of lame pseudo-fantasy world is this?
A world where mythical creatures and only mythical creatures live…without magic should be more interesting than just having a technicolored population where pegasi are common pests, dragons are basically dogs and that’s about it.
A world that has so many different kinds of sentient creatures should actually do something with them, rather than having their different sizes played for jokes. The pixies ride regular-sized motorcycles. A centaur can’t fit properly into his car.
Shouldn’t things be scaled so that there’s something to fit everyone. For me, the way this movie goes about presenting these issues humorously is kind of jarring to alongside what’s supposed to be this really emotional plot.
Also, pretty much every other reference to fairytale things are puns, minute references…nice background when you’re looking at it, but it’s some shitty-ass world building in my opinion.
The fact of the matter is, if this movie took place in our world or one similar to it -with human characters in a modern world that has lost its magic, absolutely nothing would change. What’s the point of making up this world if you don’t really do anything with it?
Why is this focused on Ian and Barley?
On that note, why the heck is this movie focused on two of the most boring characters in the setting.
Poor Tom Holland keeps getting stuck voicing anxiety-ridden, loser teens -who all seem to have the same design. (Studios, you know it’s okay NOT to have characters modeled after their voice actors, right?)
Ian Lightfoot isn’t a compelling character. He’s a sad, lonely high schooler. But…other than some anxiety over driving, not having any friends and having absolutely no self-esteem, he’s a really flat character.
I don’t know what his interests are. I don’t see him get passionate about anything. I can’t tell you anything about him as a person (or elf) -it’s hard for me to muster up any feeling other than apathy towards him.
I think the film tries to show us that most of his issues come from being passive, but one guy putting up his bare feet on your desk and not listening to you doesn’t really make you a passive person. There’s pretty much one of those guys in every high school.
That’s just life.
Barley is slightly better. At least he’s passionate about something. But his immaturity and impulsivity, lead to a couple of issues during the film. These never really get addressed and Ian is treated as being in the wrong, somewhat, for being upset with Barley.
And Barley never changes these behaviors.
Like these are the two people I’m supposed to root for? I can understand why Ian is annoyed with Barley, and those sweet moments at the end could have been referenced beforehand – and Ian could have apologized for some stuff like the “elf-splaining” of the pixies’ history of flight.
But their mother, Laurel, seems like she has a lot of unexplored personality.
When the boys go on their journey, she follows them – teaming up with Corey the manticore to find them before they accidentally unleash a curse. Corey and Laurel have some amazing chemistry together.
Corey is a retired badass who runs a themed-restaurant and Laurel is a single mom whose probably never done anything more extreme than her workout videos, but she is determined to keep her kids safe.
I was disappointed that they were only on screen together for maybe 10 minutes total. I would be the way more interested if the movie had focused on them instead.
Laurel could need to rescue her kids after they decide to head out on a quest at the behest of their deceased father, but they’re woefully under prepared, so she must join forces with Corey to bring them home.
During the film, the two would become friends and each regain a little of their personality that they had been forced to leave behind as their lives changed.
And occasionally we would cut to the teenagers in the middle of a life-or-death situation, with very little context of where they’re going or what they’re doing.
And bam! You have an interesting engaging story and one that can tie in with the setting -finding your identity and the balance between tradition and the modern world. Maybe they bring back magic, maybe they don’t.
That part isn’t important.
And besides, how often do animated films star two middle-aged women as protagonists. (I’m gonna assume Corey is middle-aged in manticore years.)
Why is the loss of magic such a big deal?
I’m going to be honest, I don’t understand why the disappearance of magic was such a big deal in this world. I’m not sure of the timeline- from the invention of the lightbulb to the present day – but it’s probably a few hundred years minimum. But even before technology, very few people could use magic and even then it took years to learn.
It’s no wonder why it was phased out. Why wait for a wizard to help light your home when there’s a lightbulb?
And it’s not like magic played a huge role in day-to-day life or was a tremendous part in anyone’s culture besides the few who were wizards. I mean aside from pixies being unable to fly and supposedly centaurs being unable to gallop…
Which don’t make sense.
Are they saying flying is inherently a magical power like wizardry? If so…shouldn’t only certain pixies be able to fly?
Or if the disappearance of magic meant that beings lost otherwise innate abilities, Corey shouldn’t be able to breathe fire and mermaids wouldn’t be able to survive out of the ocean.
I just don’t see the connection.
I get that a setting shouldn’t explain magic in narration, but how it works needs to make sense. And it just doesn’t make sense here.
I also don’t understand how magic and all the history behind it got preserved in a Dungeons and Dragons-esque game of all things. How did this knowledge get preserved so accurately? How is magic passed down? Why isn’t a bigger deal made of the fact that Wilden had a staff and the gem needed to power it.
How did he come up with the spell?
Why didn’t Laurel know?
Why did he think that two kids with no experience would be able to bring him back?
And shouldn’t a spell that could bring back the dead have severe consequences?
We learn absolutely nothing of real importance about Wilden, and he’s supposed to be such a driving force in the film. I wish he had learned more about what drew him to magic and how that influenced Barley.
Why have the centaur boyfriend?
Laurel’s boyfriend/second husband (it’s not really clear) is Colt Bronco, which aside from being a stupid name for a centaur doesn’t really need to be in the plot.
He goes after the boys to try to help to bring them home, but he’s not very good at it. He’s incompetent, kind of lazy, not good with kids and kind of disrespectful of Barley.
I mean…he’s not wrong that Barley needs to get his shit together, but he just goes about it the wrong way. While it’s obvious he’s trying to bring them home for good reasons, I just kept waiting for him to have some kind of evil turn because everything seemed to be adding up that way, and I was desperate for some actual conflict.
He doesn’t do much.
And I guess with so many kids having step-parents these days, Disney decided that they couldn’t rely on the evil step-parent trope anymore.
So, after possibly centuries after magic has disappeared -it reappears. What kind of consequences does this have on the world?
Other than Ian teaching magic and gaining confidence because he found the one thing he has a natural talent for…what will happen?
Another LGBT “moment.”
In a move that should surprise absolutely nobody, Disney’s “first LGBT character” is a cop cyclops who gets like 5 lines, during one of which she mentions having a girlfriend.
This apparently did get the movie banned in several countries overseas and the line got changed in Russia to make it non-gender specific.
Steven Universe for all its flaws had an episode with a same-sex couple and made it in such an unambiguous way, that there was no way to skip the episode in the series or have it dubbed in a way to make them seem heterosexual.
And since Disney owns pretty much everything, they can afford to take the risk. Missing out on a couple of billion dollars won’t hurt the company in the long run.
Sure, in the States, One Million Moms will be pissed, but nobody really takes them seriously.
The emotional range of a teaspoon
This movie should be sad. Pixar’s films are typically really good at getting you to feel certain emotions. I felt nothing.
Barley’s van Guinevere was a road hazard. I didn’t feel bad that it got destroyed.
I didn’t feel anything when Ian was trapped and only Barley got to speak to their father -maybe because I fully expected it and because I didn’t feel I knew the characters enough. But I will give credit to the fact that Barley’s personality and desire to his father is because he never got the chance to say goodbye.
When Wilden was sick in the hospital, Barley didn’t go into his room because he was hooked up to a bunch of machines and as such didn’t get to see his father before he died. But it kind of felt like it came out of nowhere.
It may have been better to focus more on Barley than Ian.
The title is stupid
This may be a ridiculous criticism, but the title comes from a ten-second scene when the two brothers begin their journey. As it turns out, Barley taped an “O” over the “D” for drive. This is never brought up again.
What happened to creative character designs?
The main characters look like humans with blue skin and big ears. It’s boring. I didn’t even know what they were until the movie actually started. And none of them have nostrils.
I’m glad Pixar isn’t trying to go hyper realistic with these designs, but the fact that most of the characters look like cartoony humans makes it feel more generic, like this movie could have come from any studio.
The settings and backgrounds are nice, though nothing really stood out to me.
A… Simpsons Short?
This is not related to the actual film, but the short film that went before this movie was of The Simpsons.
This pisses me off for multiple reasons. One, is that I really don’t think the show is really appropriate for the target demographic and showing it before is only going to confirm to a lot of parents that all cartoons are for kids.
The whole short is about how Maggie gets a crush on another baby while at the park. While some of it is clever infant versions of typical romance movie tropes- like when the boy gets on a train, it’s a kiddie ride that goes around in a circle -I was uncomfortable with the references to sex…
Normally, I think these can work in children’s media -but The Simpsons isn’t kids media.
Also, it took away the opportunity to show a creative and interesting short that typically accompanies these movies.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2020
Length: 103 minutes
Producer: Kori Rae
Director: Dan Scanlon
Writers: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin
If you liked this review, read: ‘Toy Story 4’ like Forky, is kind of trash