Pixar has always made a quality product. Recently, reliance on sequels has resulted in a few less than stellar movies. Incredibles 2 and Cars 3 were not as good as the originals. Onward is one of the few non-sequels that isn’t that outstanding by Pixar standards. I felt emotionally manipulated through much of Onward. They play the dead father card with a very heavy hand. Eventually, I was emotionally invested in the story, but that might have been the result of waring me down. The movie is set in a modern-day parallel world inhabited by creatures from Dungeons and Dragons or other fantasy lore. Sadly, the world has forgotten how to use magic and unicorns are left rabid and rummaging through the trash.
Tom Holland and Chris Pratt took some time off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and voice brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot. As with most Disney/Pixar movies they have a single parent, Laurel Lightfoot voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Their father, Wilden, passed away while Ian was still in the womb. Barley only has three memories of his father. The movie is a hero’s journey explicitly as they seek to fulfill a spell to bring their father back to life for one day.
Ian, the younger brother believes his older brother is a screwup. Barley is very passionate about tabletop games and ancient lore. Ian is very dismissive of his brother’s passion throughout the movie. Ian desperately wants to spend one day with his father and the movie never lets you forget it. It constantly tries to remind you how sad it is that Ian never met his father. It feels heavy-handed for three-quarters of the movie.
About the time that Ian realizes his bother is a role model is a time when the emotions of the movie start to get you. It a very long wait for the payoff; most other Pixar movies switch to be endearing earlier in the movie. By the time the movie closes, Ian has learned the lesson he needed to and the audience may be watching through wet eyes. The emotional impact is not on the same level as Up or Toy Story 3.
Onward was a good movie. The visuals are not groundbreaking. There is a dragon mural that finally gets a solid payoff at the end of the movie, but otherwise, this felt off-the-shelf in terms of production quality. The Pixar name continues to carry a lot of baggage and can often suffocate lesser products. Unfortunately, Onward just isn’t on the same level we have come to expect. This would be a better Disney or Dreamworks movie.