Review: Onward

I may be slightly out of step with the masses on this one. Time will tell. I liked Onward, but I didn’t love it, and I’m not so sure the majority of kids will either. Onward definitely scores points for sparking the imagination and conjuring up some magical messaging. But will kids grasp the concept of a half-dad depicted by a pair of khakis? I don’t know.

The animation is superb. And so are the voices. No surprises there. This is, after all, a Disney and Pixar movie. They set the bar – and it’s a high one. So high, in fact, that a Pixar movie that’s simply good or just okay is somehow disappointing. Onward lands in the middle of the pack somewhere. It’s sweet and moving and at times even magical. But it’s no Toy Story.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, because the journey is as important as the destination. Suffice it to say it’s a quirky road movie about two elf brothers, 16-year-old Ian (Tom Holland) and 19-year-old Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) who set out on a magical quest that will allow them to spend a few precious hours with the father who died before Ian was even born. Ian is lanky and sweet and good-hearted and lacks confidence in just about everything he does; Barley is big and burly and loud and a bit of a screw-up. He’s also obsessed with the wizardry and spells found in his favorite video game, Quest of Yore. That will come in handy as the plot unfolds.

The story kicks off with a magic-stick snafu that results in the dad Wilden only returning from the waist down. So the brothers take what there is of him on their quest (in a Scooby-Doo style van named Guinevere), resulting in scenes reminiscent of the 1989 classic farce Weekend at Bernie’s.

Hot on the boys’ trail is their devoted mom Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus); a warrior-turned-restaurateur known as The Manticore (Octavia Spencer); and Laurel’s half-horse/half-man boyfriend, Officer Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez).

Did I mention this movie can be quite odd? Most everything is a hybrid of the familiar and the strange, from the characters to the setting.

Onward is all about finding one’s path, overcoming fears, embracing family, and taking risks in the pursuit of adventure…. you know, the kind of stuff we’ve come to expect from a Disney-Pixar fantasy, complete with music cues that will let you know when it’s okay to get emotional or misty-eyed, as you surely will during the final act. And then you’ll move on, none the worse for wear. Unless perhaps, you’re a ghostly pair of khakis.

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