March 2, 2020

CINEMA | Pixar Journeys 'Onward' into Mythical Fantasy

"On a quest, the clear path is never the right one."
Tom Holland Chris Pratt Dan Scanlon | Disney Pixar Onward
Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar Animation ventures into the mythical fantasy adventure realm for a strange journey of self-enchantment about two elf brothers who resurrect their dead father's lower body in Onward. Veteran animator Dan Scanlon co-wrote and directed the oddball buddy comedy quest inspired by his own family's history, brotherly relationship, and role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons.

Starring the vocal talents of Marvel stalwarts Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as elf brothers Ian (dorky, age sixteen) and Barley Lightfoot (goofy, older), the themes of fraternal love and fatherly issues resonate as a tear-jerking exploration of family and identity.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer co-star as their widowed doting mother and her anticore sidekick as Scanlon rushes to build the film's dense mythology before setting off on the father reviving quest.

There's an offbeat flatness to the original story as it cribs the works of Tolkien and current popular fantasy franchises. Everything about Onward suggests it would have worked better as live-action, whereas Pixar fare usually takes full advantage of their state of the art 3-D CGI animated storytelling technology. The whole disembodied waist and legs (think "ghost half-dad") is a bizarre visual decision that echoes the physical comedy of Weekend at Bernie's unflatteringly.

Onward feels slight yet heartwarming while sticking to the trademark Pixar formula. Its wistfully fun adventure tale ticks off all the usual boxes as a competently told, if familiar, story yet there's just a certain magic missing. The whole disenchantment angle of technological comforts over actual wizardry is underdeveloped with so many other mythical elements going on.

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