Onward (2020)

I was both looking forward to, and slightly apprehensive about this. Yes, it’s Pixar, and if a studio’s worst film is Cars (which, as much as I hate it, is MASSIVE financially) then you know you’re in for a good time, but since this film has been out I haven’t heard a lot of love for it. So maybe it’s just average, maybe it’s another Good Dinosaur, a film that’s perfectly serviceable but nothing special. After seeing the film, I don’t get it, it’s hard to say it’s one of Pixar’s best, but that’s only because their films are such high quality that it’s really hard to rank them. I will say this though: it’s going to take something special coming out for this not to be in consideration for one of the best films of the year.

I mean it could be argued that the plot is kind of generic, it’s essentially a road movie. But a lot of Pixar films are really when you think about it. For every brilliant plot of Ratatouille or Wall-E, you have the simple plot of Monsters University. Pixar are not about the story the telling, it’s about HOW they tell them, and they tell them perfectly. As to be expected it looks gorgeous, and the script and the characters are just as beautiful.

The best thing about this is just how deeply personal you can feel it is to the writer. I often criticise films by saying “I can’t imagine someone feeling they NEED to get this film made”. You could NEVER say that about this. It’s obviously deeply personal and that personal touch permeates every inch of the film.

It’s helped by the performances, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland work incredibly well together and their relationship is the true emotional core this film depends on. It depends on the brother relationship much more than the “sons missing their father” angle that you expect. I mean, the fact that they miss their deceased father is central to the film, and it does provide one or two deeply emotional moments, but the central emotional crux is the relationship between the two brothers. For a story about not-mythical creatures it is incredibly human, but then again that’s always been Pixars strength.

Now the downside: it feels like it doesn’t do enough with the premise. The film has two main concepts:

  1. Magic used to be a thing people could do, but then technology replaced it as it was simpler. Reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke quote: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  2. The legs.  Okay I should mention it: this film is about them trying to bring their dad back from the dead but it goes wrong and only his bottom half comes back (fully clothed thankfully).

I feel it could have done more with those premises, although then I suppose there is a risk that might have taken away from the emotional developments. The legs thing is weird, and should provide very unique scenarios, but it really doesn’t provide that many. It does provide a great moment where the legs realise that his sons are there. One of them lets him know by tapping on his foot like he did when he was a child, after that the legs immediately search for the other son, and press down on his foot with his own. It’s the closest it will get to a hug, and it’s beautiful. As is the moment near the end, when you see it you’ll know.

So yeah, go see it. It’s a great film, and all the cast are brilliant (I haven’t mentioned it but Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer’s characters are crying out for a spin-off).

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