Onward

Onward is the latest from Pixar, and it is a sucker punch to the tear ducts. It has an emotional punch that really works and really hits home, however there are times when those tears feel like a foregone conclusion, and the whole movies feels almost paint by numbers at times.

The story concerns a magical world in which the mystical creatures from our mythology are real. However with the advent of technology magic is forgotten and their magical world begins to look an awful lot like our world complete with cars, cell phones, and computers. We meet Ian a teenage elf who is shy and awkward, and his rambunctious blow hard of an older brother named Barley. Their dad passed away when Barley was a kid and Ian was just a baby, but he left them a magic wand that could bring him back for one day and one one day only. The boys use the magic wand, but the magic crystal fails and only the lower half of dad is brought back. The boys go on an epic quest to find another magic crystal to complete the spell before time runs out.

The animation is of course beautiful. The world is wonderfully rendered and filled with delightful little visual elements. The voice talent is great across the board. Chris Pratt is especially effective as Barley. There are some wonderful heart breaking moments as when Ian listens to an old tape recording of his dad and tries to talk to him through the recording. It’s a brilliant little moment that is jam packed with pathos and a keenly inventive imagination. There are also some delightful moments of adventure as when Ian has to learn to drive while being chased by angry fairies. There are wonderful visual gags involving a spell that can change the size of objects. It is genuinely funny and sincerely affecting.

The problem I have is in the plotting of the film. It is such a run of the mill plot that it feels entirely predictable throughout. It’s a standard quest movie. If you’ve seen one of these types of movies, you’ve seen them all and the plot will tick off every box at the exact moment those boxes are supposed to be ticked off. At the ten minute mark this will happen. At the 30 minute mark this chase will occur. At the 45 minute mark, the two brothers will have an argument. At the hour mark this plot point will happen. It’s a classic three act structure that has been done a billion times before. Those tearful moments hit at the exact same moment they hit in every Pixar movie. That’s not to say that the tears aren’t genuine. They are real and I felt all the feelings during this movie, but it does say something when I can almost set my watch to the moment when I will begin to tear up.

I think a little more time with the characters at the beginning might have helped this plotting issue. There isn’t a lot of time wasted getting right into the quest. Maybe a few extra minutes with Ian and Barley at the start would have shaken things up a little bit.

The movie is filled with inventive and delightful little moments. They clearly didn’t spend time on a new plot structure, but they did spend time coming up with fun twists on the use of magic. There are some truly clever moments throughout the movie that keep it engaging and buoyant. There are great moments that make this movie completely worth watching despite it’s predictable nature.

It is my cup of tea – B+

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