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Film Review:
Onward

The latest Pixar/Disney production is charming enough, yet loses something due to an overstuffed plot and some iffy touches in between the sweetness. 

Due for release in cinemas back around the time that the lockdowns started, um, locking-down, this is co-written and directed by in-house favourite Dan Scanlon, who was inspired by his own experience of losing his Dad at an early age and thereafter wondering just who he was.

Complete with references to Lord Of The Rings, other Pixar pics and even Dungeons & Dragons (no longer a dirty little secret after Netflix’s Stranger Things), it offers pleasing voice work from Avengers Tom ‘Spider-Man’ Holland and Chris ‘Star-Lord’ Pratt, who were allowed to improvise a little in a departure from the rather rigid Pixar process.

In a world of mythical creatures where real magic has been mostly forgotten, we meet elf brothers Ian Lightfoot (Holland) and his brother Barley (Pratt), who live in the ‘burbs of New Mushroomton with Mom Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Ian is shy, awkward and perpetually embarrassed by the brash Barley, and on his sixteenth birthday they’re all sad as they remember Dad Wilden, who died shortly before Ian was born, and whose severe illness and tragic passing are discussed unusually openly for what is intended to be a movie for children.

Laurel gives the lads three gifts from their late father: a staff, a gem and a letter that explains how to cast a visitation spell that will allow Dad to be resurrected for one day only, but they mess up the ritual and accidentally bring back only Wilden’s lower half. And yes, this is a curiously uncanny bit of plotting, where something that might have been a quick gag in a Bugs Bunny cartoon or in the TV classic The Goodies becomes a major narrative point. It just feels vaguely wrong.

Ian and Barley hit the road to find more gems so that all of Dad might manifest, and the intermittently wobbly storyline ropes in a manticore named Corey (voiced by Octavia Spencer), a surly gang of pixie bikers and even, as things get especially D&D-ish, that most wonderfully silly of creatures, the ‘gelatinous cube’, which is more Jell-O than The Blob.

There’s a lot going on here, and everything feels strained and jumbled compared to a Toy Story or The Incredibles, and yet there is still much to enjoy and you do, despite it all, feel for poor Ian – not least due to the fact that Ian is a really dumb name for an elf.

Yes, it isn’t really another WALL-E, Up, Inside Out or Coco but, then again, what is, kids?

Reviewer Rating
7/10

Onward (PG) is now streaming on Disney+

DM Bradley

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