REVIEW: ‘Onward’ offers a dull quest

This movie is all about magic, but doesn’t necessarily have that Pixar magic.

Tom Holland voices Ian in “Onward,” a young elf living in a world that, despite fantasy and magic elements existing, has become like our own modern society. A high schooler, Ian lives with his mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) who hasn’t exactly found his way in life.

Ian’s father Wilden passed away before he was born, something that weighs heavily on him. When he turns 16, though, he receives a staff for his birthday and finds a spell to bring back his dad for one day. He starts the spell, but is only able to bring his dad’s legs back. Knowing they only have a day, Ian and Barley decide to go on a quest to find a way to complete the spell.

For a movie that takes place in such a fantastical world filled with creatures and magic, it’s somewhat of a disappointment that “Onward” feels so pedestrian. The movie doesn’t really push boundaries, offering a rather generic road trip adventure. It isn’t as memorable as other Pixar films with adventures in other worlds, such as “Coco.”

In all fairness, the movie does have its heartfelt moments with the brothers wanting to see their dad again. These are the strongest moments in “Onward.”

One of the weaker parts, meanwhile, is the movie’s humor. “Onward” basically has one joke, and it’s fantasy creatures interacting with modern human society, such as a dragon acting like a dog and pixies being members of a biker gang.

It’s kind of cute and charming at first, but it really becomes repetitive quick. That’s about all there is to offer, and it really starts to drag the movie down.

Courtesy Disney and Pixar.

Character-wise, Ian and Barley are sort of the classic opposite duo, with the latter being more eccentric and the former doing things more by the book. Both characters are fine protagonists as far as animated flicks go, especially as Ian becomes better at using magic spells.

However, their opposite personalities just lead to a formulaic plot point. Of course these types of characters often end up clashing at points, but the way it happens here just feels so by-the-books.

Another part of the movie that didn’t work is the dad’s legs being brought back. It was just awkward and didn’t come across as endearing.

Where “Onward” really drops the ball, though, is with its supporting characters. They’re really nothing more than caricatures, which is disappointing. Pixar usually nails it with its supporting characters, like in “Inside Out” and the “Toy Story” films. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case here.

“Onward” does have very nice animation, something that’s expected with the studio. The final climactic battle is especially fun to watch.

When all is said and done, though, this one is just somewhat forgettable. The movie’s main crux of comedy runs out of steam pretty fast, the story doesn’t take many chances and the characters aren’t too memorable. It’s only really bolstered by some heartfelt moments and good animation. 2.5 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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