When discussing any Pixar movie, the words ‘magical’ and ‘heartwarming’ have almost been sacred words to define the studio’s finest movies. Pixar’s latest tenure, Onward, brings the magic into its literal sense in a world where mythical creatures from various mythologies survive the test of time and make it to the modern world. Here’s the thing; the magic in this world has long gone and been forgotten by the dwellers. In a movie about the magical world where the magic has vanished, will Pixar’s magic still alive?
The answer to such a question lies in the story of two elven brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), as they discover a newly unraveled chapter of their lives. Since their father passed years ago, they are raised by their single-mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfous). The absence of a father figure in the family has impacted the brothers in completely different ways. Barley, as his mother exclaims, is not afraid of anything, not even the authority, including his mother’s Centaur-cop boyfriend (Mel Rodriguez). He’s a history aficionado with a beat-up van called Guinevere who would like to embark on adventures based on his favorite Dungeon-and-Dragon-like board games. Meanwhile, Ian is a socially awkward teenager who, in complete opposite to his brother, fears everything. Their lives are about to get to change when her mother unveils a secret gift suggesting that their late father is some kind of wizard.
Onward will soon observe the protagonists embarking on a hilarious road trip as the brothers failed to execute an important spell, which instead causes surreal trouble. Given only 24 hours to fix their mistake, the adventure will soon change how the brothers see life, magic, and each other drastically. From encountering a legendary manticore to escaping the wrath of pixies’ biker gang, from trying a levitation spell to actually fighting enemies with combat spells, there’s almost no going back in this story, everything moves onward and, as a road movie should be, nobody is as they were before the trip.
The cliche-ridden plot is, by all means, functional. Onward barely takes a much-needed break on its voyage. Several conflicts functionally appear and get resolved almost immediately. Observing from that alone, it seems that Pixar seems to be targeting younger audiences; especially with the vibrant world-building, various mythical creatures and perils (Giant Green Cube that swallows everything?), as well as some magical spectacles involving various wizardry spells. There’s little to no surprise in the narrative development; the bigger the writer-director, Dan Scanlon, attempts to pull the stunt, the less invigorating it becomes after some series of fast-paced plots. Similar issues are apparent in Scanlon’s first directorial effort, Monster University a.k.a. Pixar’s first prequel; however, those flaws do not make Onward less entertaining, it only makes it less intriguing.
The movie only gets more enticing when the brothers begin to bond with each other. There’s a scene where Barley convinces Ian to use a spell for a bridge of trust. It’s a very predictable scene, but the execution and the build-up are carefully crafted making it one of the finest Pixar’s scenes. The further we observe their siblinghood, the more Onward feels heartwarming and, by the third act, surely magical, ticking all the Pixar’s trademarks off. One of the most successful ingredients is the familiarity and likability of Holland and Pratt’s voice-acting. The duo (straight from back-to-back Avengers gig) makes the whole drama alive and, most importantly, relatable.
In the end, the magic spells are only tools that make Onward bearable. It might not be as engaging as Pixar’s finest works to date; but, the originality of the idea and the easy-to-follow siblinghood story make a powerful feat. After all, the magic of Onward, even when merely functional, is still spellbinding