Disney and their animation department Pixar is one studio you can always count on to be on top of their game. “Onward” is more of a step backward for the house of mouse. It’s a major disappointment and would have been more fitting to release it on their streaming service Disney+ or straight to dvd. “Onward” is essentially a mystical version of “Weekend at Bernie’s”, except suffers from being a complete bore, the writing is terrible, the comedy is useless and the film itself feels flat with no sense of their usual excitement or magical wonder. Even the voice work by “Avengers” stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt feel lazy. “Onward” has nothing memorable and is on it’s way to one of the years worst films.
Pixar began in 1979 as part of the LucasFilm computer division, known as the Graphics Group, before its spin-off as a corporation in February 1986, with funding from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who became its largest shareholder at the time. Disney purchased Pixar in 2006 at a cost of $7.4 billion.
Pixar has produced 21 feature films, beginning with “Toy Story” in 1995, which celebrates it’s twenty fifth anniversary this year and was the first ever computer-animated feature film. As of July 2019, its feature films have grossed approximately $14 billion at the worldwide box office, an average worldwide gross of $680 million per film.
Fifteen of Pixar’s films are in the 50 highest-grossing animated films of all time. Pixar has earned 20 Academy Awards, 8 Golden Globe Awards and 11 Grammy Awards among other awards and acknowledgments. From the “Toy Story” films to “Finding Nemo” to “Wall-E” to “Coco” to “Ratatouille”. Pixar has managed to always hit it out of the park and always be on top of their game.
The studios newest film “Onward’ is the 22nd film from Pixar. I recently did a ranking of the ten best Pixar films (you can find the article on mauiwatch.com). If I had to do a full best of all 22 films, I’d rank “Onward” at the bottom of the heap, as number 22. It’s a major disappointment for the animation studio. It would have been more fitting to release it on their streaming service Disney+ or straight to dvd.
The story was inspired by director Dan Scanlon’s relationship with his older brother and their shared yearning for knowledge of their father, who died when he was a small child. While it’s a sweet tribute to his father, director Dan Scanlon has done much better work in the past with Pixar’s “Monsters University”.
The story revolves around a shy and awkward teenager Ian (“Spider-Man” star Tom Holland), who feels bad that he never got to know his long deceased father. In the films one great scene, Ian plays a fragment of a tape, on which his father’s voice is heard. Ian plays back the tape, speaking in between the pauses, creating for himself and us an illusion of conversation. It’s a touching moment, beautifully conveying the longing for his absent parent.
Ian’s got a brother Barley (the voice of “Guardians Of The Galaxy” Chris Pratt), who’s character gets tiresome and annoying very quickly. He just feels more like a cookie-cutter rehash of other Chris Pratt or Jack Black characters. The movie establishes Barley as a loud, blustering fool, obsessed with some sword-and-sorcery game (much like “Dungeons & Dragons”).
When Ian turns 16, he finally gets a present that was set aside for him by his late father. A magical staff with instructions in creating a spell to bring his Dad back from the dead for a full 24 hours. The spell goes wrong and only the bottom half of Ian and Barley’s dad appears. This is where “Onward” becomes an animated version of “Weekend At Bernies” as the two brothers hit the road to fix the spell. The obstacles on their road trip keep coming as an excuse to stretch the story where nothing substantive happens.
“Onward” is a complete bore, the writing is terrible, the comedy is useless and the film itself feels flat with no sense of their usual excitement or magical wonder. Even the voice work by “Avengers” stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt feel lazy.
It should be noted that the talented actress-writer Lena Waithe helps makes history as the first openly gay Pixar character: Officer Spector, a lesbian cop who also happens to be a purple cyclops unicorn. It’s an important step in animation, but it’s a shame we don’t see more of her engaging, funny and warm character in the story. She was much more intriguing than the bottom half of a dead dad.
“Onward” is too flat and lazy to keep parents and older children entertained for it’s hour and forty minutes, and becomes too existential for the little ones. For only being an hour and forty, it goes on and on and barely moves forward. Long even before the end credits rolls, you can feel that “Onward” had long overstayed its welcome.
“Pixar” has set the bar high for their films and has repeatedly raised it higher in the twenty five years since Pixar started. Their films have ingenious storytelling, imagination and wit, emotionally rich tales centered around themes of love, family and personal growth with insights that speak to adults and kids.
Not every entry can be an instant classic like “Wall•E”. While the majority of Pixar’s films are special for one reason or another, it’s hard to say the same about “Onward”, which just ends up being a step backward for the house of mouse.
GRADE: ☆☆☆☆☆ (0 out of 5)