With the established pedigree of Disney/PIXAR, one expects pure movie magic upon watching any one of their films. We want to be transported as viewers to cohesive worlds filled with interesting, well-rounded characters and stories packed with hefty doses of laughter and heart, and for the most part, I’d say they’ve always delivered. That said, I can’t recall PIXAR ever handling magic specifically until now. The result of that endeavor, Onward, may now be one of my favorites they’ve done, and it instantly won over my wife and each of my children. While, initially, I thought the film might be slow to grab me, it truly is a film that takes a bit to wind up but doesn’t stop once it really gets going.
Amidst a creative fantasy-meets-modernity setting, we follow two elven brothers, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt). Those Marvel alums bring every ounce of their charisma and charm with them, and while they haven’t featured too much together as Spider-Man and Star-Lord (at least not yet), they work wonderfully together here as leads. Accompanied by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer in the primary cast, you should expect the film to be funny, and it fully delivers there. My family and I were thoroughly entertained, and my three-year-old even was laughing heartily (which made it all the better).
Beyond that, though, is where the film really shines: a deeply moving portrait of what losing a loved one does to a family, especially when a parent dies before their child is born. There are some very poignant scenes in this film, and in a move that I found refreshing, don’t expect them to just come at the end. I was moved emotionally from beginning to end, and while that may have been because those main themes hit very close to home for me, I do feel the heart it conveys can be felt by all. Couple all that heart and humor with inventive animation and some of the best worldbuilding I’ve seen from them since Monsters University (also directed by Dan Scanlon), and I’d say PIXAR is still at the top of their game.
In regards to content, the language was more in the “Sonuva…” and “What the…” range without blanks being filled. Some parents take issue with such statements, so be aware. Headlines have already been made regarding Disney‘s first definitive LGBTQ+ character, and I do feel like such press will, unfortunately, distract from what the film offers as a worthwhile story. Swords and sorcery are part of the fantasy experience, and that’s no different here. That too may dissuade some parents from even considering this film. Ultimately, parents must decide for themselves what their kids will watch, but all should be aware that there is a lot to be enjoyed and discussed here regarding family and how we help form each other as people. Some of that discussion can spin out of the Geeks Under Grace Bible Study I wrote, in addition to this review.
All-in-all, I highly enjoyed this film. Onward‘s unique setting, consistent sense of fun and adventure, and deeply moving story made it an instant favorite of mine in the PIXAR line-up. Seeing how deeply it resonated with all of my children, as well as myself, ensures that it will be a film we enjoy for years to come.