Pixar could’ve made ‘Onward’ with a hand tied behind its back

Onward (2020)

Onward (2020)

Directed by Dan Scanlon

The “Onward” trailers had not made me excited for Pixar’s latest outing, and eventually my hopes dipped so low that I decided anything better than a bottom-three Pixar finish could be considered a success in my book. Well, they did it! “Onward” may still be in the bottom half of the Pixar pile (haha, “bottom half”), but that says more about its stacked cohort than its own quality.

In the fantastical world of “Onward,” magic from long ago was replaced by the modern conveniences of cars and automobiles. But magic still exists throughout the land, for the lucky few who still have the gene. But mostly, fairies, trolls, and elves live modern lives. The Lightfoot family is one such example. Ian (Tom Holland) never got to meet his dad, and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) only has a few memories of him. Their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is a saint, but the boys still talk about what their father was like and what he would think of them now. When Ian is gifted a vintage wizard staff, he discovers a spell to bring his dad back to life for a day. But when he tries it, only the bottom half is conjured before the spell goes awry. So Ian, Barley, and their dad’s legs will go on a quest—just like the old times—to find a powerful stone that will allow them to get the spell right.

Right off the bat, I knew I would hate Chris Pratt’s character. Pratt’s “cool guy” voice, like the one he used when he voiced Rex Dangervest in “The Lego Movie 2,” is grating. I might be the only one who feels this way (so maybe it won’t bother anyone else), but from the start I had trouble enjoying Barley’s company on this adventure. The rest of the cast does a better job of blending in. Typically, voice actors in big movies like this one aren’t called upon to give caricatured impersonations, but rather to use their normal speaking voice to sound like the director wants a character to sound. Chris Pratt’s heightened “epic adventure” voice belongs on Cartoon Network, not a Pixar film.

But “Onward,” even with Pratt’s ever-presence, is an entertaining escapade with an emotional payoff (and a predictably terrific film score). It’s 100% heartfelt, even if the third main character is only 50% there. It’s right up Pixar’s alley, just packaged in extra-kid-friendly trappings. If Pixar decides to make another trip to New Mushroomton for an “Onward” sequel, I would be down. I never thought I would have said that even just a week ago, but here we are.


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