Pixar are (with some exceptions) still flying the flag for original content amidst the Disney megathon. Few studios have captured the imagination quite like they have; Onward may be the first time the studio has ventured down the high fantasy route, but the effortless charm that makes Pixar films so wonderful hasn’t changed. Sure, it may not be the awe-inspiring creative gamble of WALL·E, nor does it cause you to reach for the tissues as much as Coco does. Yet it applies twists to the typical family adventure that result in a truly magical end product.
Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) has just turned sixteen when he gets swept into a quest along with his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) to try and bring their dad back to life for a day. Prior to his death, their father had left them a wizard’s staff and after some… complications, the pair have to find a magical gem so that Ian can meet his father for the first time.
It is another dizzyingly beautiful setting, born through imagination and cutting edge animation technology. Director and writer Dan Scanlon fills his story with some incredible characters and scenarios – Octavia Spencer in particular is on fire as Manticore. The story keeps the number of characters to a minimum, allowing each to be expressed clearly and in full rather than succumb to a bloated narrative. Onward is a strong entry to the Pixar canon and another stunning example of world building – but by this point, what else would we expect?
Scanlon embraces all the classic Pixar traits – thrilling set pieces, great humour and a big heart. The latter in particular finds strength in the ending as Ian reaches a conclusion you won’t see coming yet feels like a natural way to close the story. While the story doesn’t take any particular risks, it never feels predictable. And if it ever threatens to lose you, the relationship between Ian and Barley brings you straight back into the very soul of the film. It has the laughs, love and life that you would hope for.
Pixar has a knack for phenomenal casting, and Holland and Pratt are perfect for the roles. Holland presents himself as timid, unsure of who he is or is meant to be, but grows in stature. Pratt is wonderfully exaggerated, bursting with confidence and a gleeful inside knowledge of magic, courtesy of his board and card games. The two are a double act to savour.
Onward may fall short of standing amongst Pixar’s most memorable classics, but there is still more than a touch of wonder to be found, with some fantastic voice acting and a story to leave you a little spellbound by the time the credits roll.
Onward releases Friday 6th March.