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Disney-Pixar's Onward - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PIXAR’S latest may be set in a world where magic has faded but there remains plenty on-screen in this masterful fantasy adventure from Monsters University director Dan Scanlon.

A rip-roaring boys’ own adventure that finds two brothers on a quest to find a missing gemstone in the hope of reviving their long lost father for one final day, this offers laughter and action in equal measure. But at its core, it’s also a deeply emotional story which, in grand Pixar tradition, delivers a genuinely affecting, even poignant conclusion in ways that you might not necessarily see coming.

The brothers in question are sensitive elf Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) and his quest-obsessed older brother Barley (Chris Pratt). On Ian’s 16th birthday, he is gifted a magical artefact from his mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) that will allow both siblings to spend one day with the late father Ian never got to meet.

But when the spell goes wrong, and only the bottom half of dad is recreated, the brothers have just 24 hours to set off on their own quest to try to make the spell work again – a quest that may also place them in life-threatening peril.

As ever with Pixar, the world in which the film is set is genuinely magical and rich in detail. New Mushroomton is a place where magic once ruled and mythical creatures roamed free. But this has all been replaced by modern comforts, which have rendered anyone’s gifts dormant.

Barley is convinced there is a way of bringing the old times back, while Ian would just like to have the confidence to make friends and be noticed. The two siblings are opposites in most senses, but it’s clear from the outset that Barley always has his younger brother’s best interests at heart.

And it’s this believable, beautifully played friendship that invests Onward with so much of its success. The film, like all Pixar productions, is big on heart and the camaraderie that exists between Holland and Pratt is never less than engaging, yet frequently heartfelt.

The two actors strike verbal sparks off each other, investing their respective characters with a great deal of humanity: for while both may be different (one exuberant and bigger than life, the other shy yet increasingly defiant), both operate from a place of heartbreak.

It means that when the genuinely emotional stuff kicks in, there will probably be a fair few adults wiping away the odd tear.

But while emotionally compelling, Scanlon maintains a keen mix of character building and action-adventure befitting the world he has created. There’s much mirth to be had in watching Ian master his spell-making, while the gag involving the lower half of their father is often brilliantly realised, especially once the brothers have placed a make-do top half upon him (in a kind of nod to Weekend At Bernie‘s style comedy).

The action-adventure element, meanwhile, has a classic Indiana Jones vibe to it, especially late on as the brothers navigate an underground river that’s shot through with booby-traps. As ever with Pixar, though, there are some neat genre subversions that nod to older audiences’ knowledge of film, while providing plenty of eye candy for the younger minds.

Scanlon also draws on Pixar’s own back catalogue (from Finding Nemo to Inside Out for the coming-of-age stuff), thereby enabling Onward to feel like it sits comfortably within that rich back catalogue.

Hence, while arguably more straight-forward than Pixar’s most adventurous titles (such as Wall-E or Coco), Onward nevertheless offers a wildly engaging ride… a funny, occasionally thrilling yet always emotionally resonant experience that the whole family can enjoy.

Certificate: U
Running time: 1hr 54mins
UK Release Date: March 6, 2020