The year when we get treated to not one, but two Pixar films is a great year in my mind. Outside of Studio Ghibli and Walt Disney Animations, Pixar’s contribution to the art is legendary. However, In the situation of having two Pixar films in the same year, I tend to gravitate towards one or the other. As I listed the upcoming Soul as one of my most anticipated films of the year, it’s quite clear that Onward was the latter, though this doesn’t mean I didn’t think it would amount to anything. Onward as it so happened turned out to be a brilliantly entertaining journey that is more complex than you may think.
First, when it comes to voice actors, Pixar always seems to get the cream of the crop which is clear given their ground-breaking reputation. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are the ones who will be enchanting us in this story as elven brothers Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt) Lightfoot. Considering they worked so well together for the previous two Avengers films, it should come as no surprise that their chemistry makes them brilliant in reflecting off each other’s strengths. I do have one little critique about this choice, however, but we’ll get to that later.
As with many Pixar films that have come before it, you already know that you’re not in for another by the books family film, you’ll be treated to a story that operates on levels that people of all ages can enjoy. Onward is no exception. What is exceptional is how strong the continuous critique of convenience is displayed. We learn quickly that the picture postcard fantasy world and magic have disappeared, and the modern world has made way (keeping the aesthetic fantasy elements of course). The story sneakily injects this ideal into the chain of events, every time the characters take the more convenient path, conflict ensues, but on the more adventurous path with great danger, the characters connect with each other.
All this comes together in a perfectly written narrative where the choice of events are perfectly timed to relate to other moments in the film. For instance, we learn at the beginning, the insecure, shy Ian makes lists of things he will aim towards and later in the story you’ll find these things being ticked off without the character’s knowledge. It may not seem like it but these moments subliminally create the entertaining feeling, each high energy scene is made all the more enjoyable because the narrative comes around full circle.
Another narrative function I enjoyed is the film’s ability to misdirect the audience. Just when you think you know the whole story, Onward redirects your attention to something that’s been hiding in plain sight the whole time. The opinion on these revelations may be seen differently by audiences’ members in terms of how relevant they are to the central characters and story, but to me, it shows intent in the writing, intent to maximize enjoyment out of the respect of the audience. On the other hand, I can see these revelations being to some mislead and unnecessarily complicated for the sake of being complex.
I figured out quite quickly that Pixar must have had Tom Holland and Chris Pratt in mind for these roles because I could see the characters they played shared some resemblance to their real appearance. Ordinarily, this would be something I bring up but I had to because I think it’s important for a voice actor to become distinguishable from their real appearance. When you look at the most recognizable Pixar character Woody, ask yourself to do you see the heroic cowboy or Tom Hanks on the screen? I never once think when watching the Toy Story films, or even acknowledge that Tom Hanks is the voice behind the 3D render, I just see Woody. The same distinction, unfortunately, can’t be applied here. A good test to see if you feel the same way I do is when describing Onward you use the name of the actors or the name of the characters.
With Pixar’s reputation of making its films very emotional, I felt that the priority was firmly for entertaining the audiences, rather than making them cry. There no reason why Pixar films can’t be both emotional and entertaining, but it is with the assistance of heart-breaking moments that makes certain Pixar films like Inside Out and Up more memorable.
Onward is a good Pixar film that may have some rusty edges or two, however, I believe the unseen complexity of the film’s writing will over time be able to polish those rusty edges. Who knows, maybe this film could be held to as high a regard as Toy Story. It’s the hugely entertaining story that can be seen as a nice break from all the heavy emotions, even if I believe more should have been included. But the film kept me in my seat long enough to go along with the story, it’s like with a book you have to keep turning the page, in the case of films you need to stay in your seat, and Onward will surely keep you there.
PLAYDATE WITH DESTINY REVIEW
As with every Pixar review, I do, it is customary for me to also review any short film that plays before it if indeed there is one. This time it’s not your traditional Pixar short film, rather the second Simpsons short film starring Maggie Simpson.
The first Simpsons short film The Longest Daycare took me completely by surprise as to how superb it was, and it was the only worthwhile reason to see Ice Age: Continental Drift (just kidding, I walked out before then). The short film even earned a nomination for Best Animated Short at the Oscars so with that huge success I was wondering if this new formula was going to go stale anytime soon. I soon found out there was no chance of this as the formula feels just as fresh as it did back in 2012.
This time Maggie is at a park for babies where she bumps into a boy named Hudson. Maggie develops a crush on him and what follows can only be described as Casablanca in Springfield. There is a classic trope that Maggie is “The forgotten Simpson” as she rarely has taken center stage in traditional Simpsons episodes, but it’s so reinvigorating to see her in the spotlight.
Where I think this short film is one up from the previous is that the first short took a baby and placed her in a baby situation, this film takes that same baby and puts her in a situation that is more relatable to a wider audience, everyone can remember their first crush. She is still a baby, but she behaves a little more maturely. We never see The Simpson family age, but these short films are showing character growth, not physically, Maggie isn’t getting older, but she’s growing older mentally.
What’s just as impressive is that Homer and Marge make a non-speaking appearance and while their role is less important, through their silent actions they still behave like themselves. Marge is still caring, and Homer is still lazy. There is a scene where Homer is driving Maggie to the wrong park, Maggie takes the wheel and Homer has his hands behind his head relaxed. That feels like something Homer would do and it’s still great to see that the silent, more knowledgeable characters still haven’t lost their personalities.
A common criticism recently is that The Simpsons has grown stale, and people have even been calling for it to end. A little girl was sitting in front of me at the screening and she had to ask her dad what The Simpsons were (that made me feel so old). But if The Simpsons are going to end, I don’t want them to end completely. I want them to continue in some way, shape or form, and these Maggie short films are a perfect way for them to stay in the public eye. That and a Hit and Run remaster (give the people what they want!).
Final Result: 7/10 – Good (Onward)
8/10 – Very Good (Playdate with Destiny)
Have you seen Onward? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below