It may be bold of me to say, but in my opinion, Pixar has somewhat of a rough track record. I think they succeed pretty well at making entertaining films. But only a few have been notably exceptional. Onward is in an interesting position to review. I’m still not entirely sure whether I liked all of it or not.
THE QUEST BEGINS..
I had absolutely no expectations of this movie before watching it. I enjoy Tom Holland and Chris Pratt on their own well enough, but I hadn’t really even been following much of the promotion for the movie. Some of the art looked fun, and I really enjoyed the music choice for the trailer – which is honestly enough to sell me most of the time (and why I plan on seeing F9).
I knew I would inevitably see Onward anyway because the trailer starts with 5 letters and a little lamp jumping on screen. That’s what begins the issues with Onward for me, conceptually.
The past couple Pixar releases have felt off, personally. I still haven’t seen the Good Dinosaur, I missed Finding Dory until 3 years later, Cars 3 was bad, and Toy Story 4 just felt like a tech demo for their animation interns to work on that they accidentally released.
And even though I did actually like Finding Dory, Incredibles 2, and Coco, they did still feel a bit lazy. Pixar definitely has a particular format they like to stick to – I won’t blame them, it seems to work commercially every time. But Onward is the 22nd film in their collection of releases, and honestly feels exactly the same as 98% of them.
Onward seems like it missed the mark on quite a few subjects to me. The art style feels weird, to be blunt. In a world with actual magic and fantasy characters, I don’t see the need to give every character an odd humanoid face, even if they have only one absurdly large eye.
It all looks a little odd, and I wish they would’ve done something a bit more creative. The main character of the film even looks like a recolor of Linguini from Ratatouille, which is something that I would think they could avoid.
But my disagreements with the world don’t stop there. Something about the atmosphere just feels kind of cheesy and almost lame. For all intents and purposes, the setting of the film is really doing the same job as that of Shrek, which somehow seems to pull it off more convincingly. That’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d be able to write.
A LITTLE MAGIC
What I did manage to like from the atmosphere of Onward is honestly just because I enjoy the fantasy genre as a whole. It could’ve been anything on screen but if they were doing magic with wizards and pulling out D&D terms I would be on board. There is certainly a bit of charm that comes along with the Pixar touch, but I don’t think this is something that had to try incredibly hard to pull off.
And that’s my biggest issue of all – it felt pretty easy. The art style was incredibly similar to things they’ve done before (even to things the Director had made before with the studio). The score was safe and almost nonexistent in some parts.
The things the “Inclusion Team” allegedly insured were in the movie were really bare minimum and easily modifiable for foreign markets that still don’t accept characters being openly gay. All of this making it all feel very unnecessary and almost as if they were forced to include them but were graded on completion, not accuracy.
So what’s the issue, really? Well, co-star of our Up the Waterfall podcast, Scott Otis, pointed out to me that Pixar has had a couple years in the past with two releases: The Good Dinosaur and Inside Out, Cars 3 and Coco, and now Onward and Soul. So statistically, maybe I’m just not a fan of Onward so that I can be a fan of Soul.
But in all seriousness, I didn’t hate everything about Onward. There were some funny moments, and I think even Pixar’s worst is always an entertaining time. There are definitely people who will like this. But for me, it just feels like another tired attempt for Pixar to play it safe and stick to their patented Pixar-style punch-you-in-the-gut emotional coming of age stories based on half-baked “What if?” ideas.
I would love to see them do something different, and take a massive risk. With the massive budget and solid teamwork they now have, I’m surprised they’ve stuck to this format for so long. The Pixar Sparkshorts on Disney+ are an interesting first attempt at this, but none have really stood out to me on their own, and they definitely feel like something that a small team makes every month or so on their lunch breaks.
Pixar used to be known for pushing the medium of animation forward with compelling new takes. Their films were a fun break from the typical cliches of family animation. Now they’re essentially pushing out Disney’s B-stories that don’t get the bigger spotlight. And sequels.
So is Pixar truly taking a step backward with Onward? It depends on how much you’re able to relate to all of their stories – for me, not a whole lot. Or how much an emotional ending is enough to convince you you liked the movie on your way out of the theater. Again, not much here for me. Maybe it just depends on how much you’re able to enjoy a kids’ movie without thinking about it too much. And clearly I can’t.
But that’s just me.