Review: Onward

Onward (2020)

Director: Dan Scanlon

Writers: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, and Keith Bunin

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer

Plot: Two brothers go on a quest to bring their deceased father back for one day.

Review: Pixar is in a weird place critically. Ever since I was three years old, they’ve been pumping out classic after classic. From Toy Story and Finding Nemo to Inside Out and Coco, there’s always like a 75% chance that a Pixar movie is going to be an instant classic. However, that’s a hard standard to hold up to and sometimes they slip. I’ve always argued tough that a Pixar flop would be among the best in any other animation studio. They just suffer by comparison. That’s where I’d rank Onward as well. It’s a great animated movie. Maybe even a great MOVIE movie. But, somehow, it still doesn’t feel like a great PIXAR movie. Which… is not fair to be honest. So, I’m going to try to review Onward on it’s own merits, which it has a lot of.

I’m sure to the surprise of no one, the main thing that works in Onward is the characters. Everyone introduced here is extremely likable. Pixar did the right thing by bringing on two MCU alumni. Everyone knows that a big part of the reason those movies work is the charisma and chemistry of their cast. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt transfer that over quite well to animation. They are a lot of fun. I very much enjoyed going on this quest with them. Tom Holland’s character in particular was really cool. His plight as a shy, nerdy teenager trying to figure out what kind of adult he is going to be felt very relatable and real. And, while Chris Pratt’s didn’t feel quite as realistic, but he’s still a big, lovable goof ball. I also really enjoyed the Mantacore who used to be a fierce warrior, voiced by Octavia Spencer. She was probably my favorite part and I wanted more of her.

Where Onward feels slightly lesser is it’s storyline. In concept, the idea of trying to bring your father back for one day should’ve been a homerun. However, Onward is more focused on the quest and less on actually meeting the dad. It’s more or less just your typical kids, animated adventure movie. Having it set in the modern day just isn’t really clever enough of a concept to hang the whole movie on. It’s fun. Sure. But, nothing feels quite as original as some other Pixar properties. It kind of feels like a lesser Monsters Inc, which is appropriate because the director did Monsters University, aka the lesser Monsters Inc.

Without going too far into spoiler territory, I will say that Onward isn’t missing that trademark Pixar emotion though. The ending is very sweet. Very emotional. Very Pixar. It’s one of those that makes you think of your past experiences and how special certain people are in your life, even if you don’t appreciate it enough at the time. It’s very well done. I teared up. I didn’t bawl like I did in Coco or Toy Story 4, but I definitely was all up in my emotions at the end of this. That’s why I will always say that lesser Pixar is still better than the best of almost anyone else. Dreamworks hasn’t ever made me cry. Pixar does almost every time, even on their lesser days.

TL;DR: Onward isn’t short on Pixar’s signature charming characters and emotional beats, but is missing their typical story telling creativity. But, still, lesser Pixar is still better than most.

Grade: 8/10 (Great)

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