The 2010s marked a dominance of sequels for Pixar, with the studio releasing only four original films during the decade — “Brave,” “Inside Out,” “The Good Dinosaur” and “Coco.” However, the new decade will see Pixar return to producing only original films, with “Onward” being the first in the slate of original Pixar films. “Onward” focuses on two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, as they set on a quest to complete a spell to get their deceased father back for one day after it goes awry. The film was released on March 6 and is the first of two Pixar films slated for release this year.
In terms of characters, Ian and Barley are both compelling despite lacking appeal in comparison to other Pixar protagonists. The voice performances of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt bring charm and personality to characters that could have easily come across as bland stereotypes if done poorly. Both actors play off each other well and have strong, brotherly chemistry. Ian is an introvert who seeks to improve himself in social skills and bravery, as he attempts to follow in the footsteps of his deceased father. Barley, serving as the opposite of Ian, is an extroverted history geek who cherishes the magic of the past. Laurel Lightfoot (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) — the mother of Ian and Barley — and Corey the Manticore (Octavia Spencer) are both great secondary characters, with their subplots creating small laughs along the way. The rest of the cast has their own appeal, with the bottom half of Ian and Barley’s father, Wilden Lightfoot (Kyle Bornheimer), being able to showcase his personality through the movements of his feet.
The core of the plot is a well-executed road trip journey that follows the usual twists and turns of the genre. While the journey itself is entertaining, there’s a lack of creativity that is normally associated with Pixar; the plot points and decisions made by the characters are relatively predictable. Despite Ian’s struggles with socializing and assertiveness being established in the beginning, there could have been more time dedicated to his struggles that could have led to a more comprehensive character development. In addition, the issues due to personality contrasts between Ian and Barley are created, resolved too quickly and have little time to sink in.
Like other Pixar films, the world-building is excellent and creates a parallel with the real world. The concept is interesting, as the mythical creatures of the film abandon their old ways in favor of the convenience of technology. This concept leads to a message that emphasizes the importance of remembering and preserving the past despite the advancement in technology, which is unique for Pixar. In addition, the animation and art style are consistent with Pixar’s high standards, with stylized characters that are combined with backgrounds and architecture that mix realism and mythical fantasy.
Out of all the parts in the film, the ending is one of the best and most emotional for Pixar. In a similar vein to Pixar films such as “Monsters Inc.” and “Up,” the happy ending is not entirely happy because of a sacrifice made by a particular character. The climax does a great job in highlighting the culmination of Ian’s growth throughout the film, with the stakes and “ticking clock” of their father’s spell adding to the tension. The development of the curse and the journey the protagonists take to reverse it are creatively executed and allow characters such as Ian and Corey the Manticore to showcase the potential of their ancestors in order to save the day.
“Onward” stands among Pixar’s other original films as one of the studio’s most emotional endings, despite a lack of creativity in certain parts. If this film is any indication, Pixar’s return to strictly original films should be smooth as long as they continue to challenge the viewer with their unique storytelling, characters and emotional moments. Even if “Onward” lacks unique elements found in other Pixar films, this film is a stepping stone that is very entertaining and hopefully leads to another golden age for the studio.
Kenneth Flores is a Staff Writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.