For proprietary reasons “Toasted Os” can’t taste exactly like Cheerios and “Hillbilly Holler” doesn’t quite have the kick of Mountain Dew. Onward tastes more like a knockoff of a brand name, rather than a true Pixar picture. Despite having a dead dad central to its plot, it barely even tries to make its audience cry. If people leave a theater with dry Kleenexes, it isn’t really a Pixar movie, is it? Let’s look at five big, surprising oversights.
The world of Onward once looked like a Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Manual threw up all over it. Over time, technology overtook magic, which was forgotten. Oversight one: A better version extrapolates this analogy to our world and suggests that an obsession with temporary gadgets contributes to our amnesia regarding a permanent shared history. The closest Onward comes to this point is halfheartedly suggesting magic was kinda hard and people are pretty lazy. Which, you know, is a fair but also pretty lazy point itself…
On his 16th birthday, Ian (Tom Holland) gets a wizard’s staff once owned by his father, who died before he was born. His burly boob of a brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), is obsessed with magical history, and attempts to perform a spell to bring their dad back. When it goes wrong, the duo head off in search of a gem they need to try again. Their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), frantically pursues them. Oversight two: Sorry single moms, but the message of this movie seems to be that your endless sacrifices and love are nice but far less important than having a father figure. Her character gets less resolution than her boyfriend, who is a police officer and centaur. Man, buck the police.
On their quest, Ian and Barley stumble into fantastical creatures from biker fairies to the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), whose story would have made a better movie, honestly. Oversight three: Unlike Toy Story, Wall-E, and so many others, Onward doesn’t have a bunch of quick, clever jokes and playful observations about its world. It gets points for making unicorns into rabid, raccoon-like trash eaters, but that’s about it.
Oversight four: In a movie that features main characters driving around in a van with a Pegasus airbrushed on the side, there is zero Led Zeppelin music. This is unforgiveable. Oversight five can’t really be discussed in depth, other than to say the ending goes for a really weird realization by Ian. The film sure tries to twist Frozen’s sisterhood into a brotherhood message, but it comes across cold. So at least they got that much right?
Look, Onward is pretty, some sequences are imaginative-ish, and the final battle is sensationally designed. The problem is that this studio has set a standard that goes beyond “a kids movie that won’t make adults long for death to take them.” Whatever Pixar’s proprietary ingredients are, Onward doesn’t have them all. So just like only weirdos prefer Hydrox to Oreos, this flick won’t be a popular choice when people are asked to pick their preferred Pixar picture.
Grade = C