In keeping with Pixar’s recent run of good-not-great animated outings, Onward is a charming yet overly familiar family-friendly adventure. Quality-wise, it’s roughly equal to 2013’s Monsters University: decent on its own merits, though nowhere near the innovative might of Toy Story or Wall•E.
Onward evokes Lord of the Rings-esque aesthetics in order to create its own fantasy world. What makes the setting creative, however, is that Onward realizes its fantasy world through a modern lens — the whimsical world of goblins and dragons is now a magic-depraved society not dissimilar to our own (minus the goblins and dragons, of course).
The plot is fairly straightforward: a pair of brothers (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) accidentally stumble across traces of sorcery, and eventually require it in order to solve a deeply personal conundrum. They embark on a quest, along the way discovering what “magic” really means in literal and figurative terms.
Onward’s story is somewhat trite. The film’s major themes — loss, family, and self-discovery — feel recycled from, and better handled in, other Pixar films. Onward doesn’t do a bad job articulating its ideas, it’s just not anything groundbreaking. I will say, however, that Onward’s eventual emotional payoff, however unoriginal in its buildup, is very well done and touching.
Holland and Pratt are each thoroughly enjoyable. In addition to delivering charismatic performances, their animated avatars are pleasantly emotive. On that note, I’ll add that the animation is, per-expectation, impressive. Perhaps not quite as imaginative as it could’ve been, but impressive nonetheless.
The statement “impressive nonetheless” is a good way to summarize Onward. It’s hardly a top-tier Pixar effort, but nonetheless emerges as a (mostly) fulfilling cinematic experience. I enjoyed it, my nine-year old brother enjoyed it, and I imagine most families will as well. At the very least, it’s a lot better than Incredibles 2.
★ – Bad (e.g., Godzilla ‘98, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League)
★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Watchmen, Alice in Wonderland, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)
★★★ – Good (e.g., Creed II, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pretty In Pink, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)
★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, Return of the Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)
★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, The Dark Knight, Back to the Future, Skyfall)