The Pixar animation studio has earned their reputation as the best of the best, and while their latest feature — “Onward” — is another gem, it does not reach the lofty heights of Pixar of old.
Still, “Onward” is a perfectly pleasant film with stellar animation and a very strong, surprising climax. The filmmakers made some decisions that prove Pixar is a cut above the rest, but they also made some decisions that show Pixar might not be trying as hard.
The movie is bursting with creativity, but perhaps doesn’t go far enough with it. “Onward” is a take on classic Dungeons and Dragons fantasy, only set in the modern day. Elves, centaurs, cyclopses and more live in ordinary homes, work day jobs, play on their phones and have long forgotten the days of castles and magic.
The movie stars elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, one a nervous high schooler and the other a boisterous big brother living out of his beat-up old van. On Ian’s 16th birthday, their mother reveals a present from their late father. It’s a wizard’s staff, with a spell that will bring the dad back for a single day.
Ian casts the spell but something goes wrong and only dad’s lower half comes back. The brothers then hop in the van and take their dad’s legs with them to find the ancient gem needed to complete the spell and see their dad again.
“Onward” definitely has an original story, and the world of modern-day fantasy is not something one sees every day. But the film plays the story a little too straight. Ian, Barley and their dad’s lower half drive off on adventure and that’s pretty much it. They encounter challenges along the way, deal with those challenges, make genial small talk and learn a couple important life lessons.
Par for the course for modern animated movies.
This film lacks that special magic that raises a Pixar film to the top. There’s nothing really bad about it. The voice acting is superb. The animation is top notch. And the filmmakers have a lot of fun with the fantasy characters and setting. And, like I said, the movie has a really strong climax, one sure to wet the eyes at least a little bit.
That is all well and good, and makes for a fine film, but the audience expects more from Pixar. Perhaps I’m judging “Onward” too harshly, based on old standards. But either Pixar remains the gold standard or they become just another studio churning out charming animated movies that don’t leave much of an impact.
“Onward” is a nice and pleasant animated feature, but it’s only about mid-tier for Pixar films. It’ll be an enjoyable trip to the theater, but not something that will likely stick with you going forward.