Another day and another movie review for a film impacted by COVID-19. Today it is the turn of Onward – the latest entry in Disney-Pixar’s impressive portfolio of animated features.
Now unlike most films from 2020, Onward has received a theatrical release this year – it was way back in March. However, the movie opened shortly before the world went into meltdown, so less people showed up to watch it on the big screen than usual.
If you live in the US, you will know that when the pandemic hit, and cinemas closed down, Disney decided to shift Onward onto Disney+ to give subscribers the opportunity to watch the movie during lockdown. For those of us in the UK, this option was not available and Onward’s theatrical release simply went on hold until cinemas re-opened in August.
The movie is still playing in UK cinemas – you could go and watch it today if you wish to – but from this week, Onward has now been added to the UK version of Disney+. So, for those who haven’t checked it out on the big screen or don’t fancy a trip to the cinema, you can now watch Onward from the comfort of your own sofa – so long as you subscribe to Disney+.
And seeing as though I am a Disney+ subscriber, and I didn’t see Onward on the big screen, last night I sat down to watch the movie. The good news is, I really enjoyed it.
For those unfamiliar with Onward, the film – which features the voice talents of Tom Holland and Chris Prat – tells the story of two teenage elves, Ian and Barley, who are given the ability to temporarily revive their deceased father. Using a magical staff and a mystical gem, the pair are able to bring their dad back to life for one single day.
But the resurrection doesn’t go quite to plan, and Ian and Barley’s father is only partially revived. So, with the clock ticking away, and daddy dearest only half alive, the pair embark on an epic(ish) quest to retrieve a second gem to complete the process.
Do they succeed? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out. What I will say is the resolution of the movie doesn’t disappoint, and I defy anyone to watch this film and not feel a little moved by the time the credits roll.
Now I must admit, pandemic or no pandemic, I had very little interest in watching Onward. I could have caught it pre-lockdown, but I didn’t, and while I have had ample opportunity to watch it on the big screen post-lockdown, I just wasn’t that bothered.
I can’t say I was particularly sold on the trailer, and the switch to Disney+ for some, but not for all, seemed to knock the wind out of the movie’s sails. And with little hype, and an uneven release schedule, this one just didn’t grab me in the way other Pixar movies have.
So, last night, when I first pressed play on Onward, I did so with some trepidation. Sure, most Pixar movies are masterclasses in filmmaking, but I couldn’t shake the feeling this one was going to be underwhelming at best, and at worse as dire as Cars (2006).
The first ten to fifteen minutes did little to dissuade me, and I was firmly of the belief that Onward would not be for me. But then, slowly but surely, Onward started to win me over and as the story about mystical resurrection continued to progress, I found myself completely onboard.
Perhaps it was the fantasy setting which initially threw me off, maybe I simply wasn’t in the mood for elves and mythical creatures last night, but as soon as the resurrection spell took effect I was hooked. The idea of reviving a lost loved one struck a chord, and this became the aspect of the film which bonded me with the story.
The key to all great Pixar films is that they are about something which is relatable. We buy into Toy Story (1995) because we have all imagined our toys coming to life, and with Monsters Inc. (2001) we have all imagined a monster in the closest. With Onward it is the desire to reconnect with those who are sadly departed.
Sure, I don’t have the ability to bring anyone back from the dead, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to do it if I could. And this plot point, as fantastical as it may be, is what got me invested, and is what held my interest for the remainder of the movie.
From here on out, I wanted to see how the scenario would resolve itself, and how Ian and Barley would find peace in their quest. As more characters were introduced, including a hilarious gang of pixies, I also fell in love with the charm of the picture, ensuring this film was firing on all cylinders.
Is Onward the strongest Pixar movie? No, but that doesn’t make it any less appealing.
The animation is spot on, the voice cast hit their marks – especially Chris Pratt who is perfect as Barley – and there is plenty of action and adventure. The finale includes a wonderfully imaginative set piece that adds a great dash of drama and humour to the final proceedings, and I can honestly say I had a blast with this film.
Onward is a delightful movie, which handles loss very well. It may not be as effective as Coco (2017), Pixar’s superb film which also looks at loss, but it still delivers a heart-warming tale with generational appeal.
As we continue to manoeuvre our way through this year and through this pandemic, we are going to find that we are not all able to watch the same movies at the same time. But if you do have the opportunity to watch Onward then take it and share it with the whole family – you will find much to enjoy and another movie gem from 2020.
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