Onward movie review: A road film, a coming-of-age tale, a Harry Potteresque adventure, Onward takes a very long route towards what is an inevitable end.
Onward voice cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
Onward movie director: Dan Scanlon
Onward movie rating: 2.5 stars
ONCE the world was full of wonder, adventure and magic. But then came inventions, some as simple as a light bulb, rendering them superfluous. That’s how Onward starts. However, by the time it comes around to the end, you realise what this latest Pixar animation has been nudging you all along towards: discovering the magic in your everyday life, the adventure and wonder of it.
Writer-director Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) doesn’t really make neat work of it, and the film often seems confused about that line between magic that seeks to impress, and magic that just is. It is also too much about a lot of things: boys who miss fathers, brothers who quarrel, misfits who seek friends, adventures at the end of which lie phoenix gems, plus elves, Cyclops, centaurs, dragons and “manticores (Spencer, a real scene-stealer)”. While the film is centred in a parallel universe where two moons light up the sky and the above creatures known from fairy tales populate the ground, it doesn’t have to be about them. However, the story keeps falling back on crutches like these.
At the heart of the tale are two elves, Ian (Holland) and elder brother Barley (Pratt), who have been raised by their feisty mother (Louis-Dreyfus) alone since their father died before Ian was born. That has left a giant hole in the life of Ian, a shy boy who has just had the loneliest 16th birthday ever, but also Barley, who keeps imagining a return to the days of yore, filled with bravery, quests, swords, and fights.
A gift their father has left behind for them can help them bring him back to life for a day, if they can get the magic right. In a decision that seems cringeworthy at first, in their first bid, the sons can revive only half their dad, in uncomfortably skinny trousers, with the top half missing. The brothers hook him with an extendable leash to keep track of him.
While the depiction is a little too on-the-nose, one can soon see where the thread is leading. Like a father moulds a child, it is upon Ian and Barley here to give shape to their father, which they must do within 24 hours. A road film, a coming-of-age tale, a Harry Potteresque adventure, Onward takes a very long route towards what is an inevitable end.
And then, just when you think it has wielded all that magic for no wonder, the film finds its sweet spot — in a dragon carved out of ordinary stones, in life’s small triumphs and disappointments, in enchantments that can be spun only from love and sacrifice. Onward’s spell may not be as lasting as it may have wished, but in those moments, it is strong enough.