Film Review: Onward (2020)

The team at Disney Pixar simply don’t know how to make a bad film. And it’s inevitable that their latest release, Onward, will join the studio’s honour roll of classics. By combining a traditional fairy tale premise with the heart of a family drama, Onward is a familiar, yet original, screenplay brought to life with innovative world-building.

Similar to Disney’s 2016 feature Zootopia, Onward is set on a planet not too dissimilar to earth, where non-human characters are so anthropomorphised you’ll fast forget you’re not the same species as them. In this alternate universe, the wonders of magic have been slowly replaced by science and technologies to the point where mythical beings no longer know how to use their powers.

Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) seemingly can’t do anything special until his 16th birthday, when he receives a staff from the father he never met as a posthumous present. The staff promises to bring Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer) back from the grave, but only for 24 hours.

Even if you know the Pixar formula, and can predict most of the plot points before they happen, you’ll never fail to be entertained by the journey that Ian and his brother Barley (Chris Pratt) go on in this 102-minute animated quest. Observant filmgoers are regularly rewarded with the frequency of foreshadowing that director Dan Scanlon and writers Jason Headley and Keith Bunin write into the screenplay, while filmgoers with limited patience will appreciate the fast pace at which the pair jump from one adventure to another. Meanwhile, savvy film analysts may be able to draw out religious allusions from the plot, but Scanlon and co. are far more interested in delivering cute and colourful characters for younger viewers.

While the premise is entertaining and Pratt, in particular, does a lot to keep the film light, the film is perhaps not as funny as it could be. Onward’s constant focus on Ian and Barley’s dead father certainly limits the amount of joy filmgoers can have, with Scanlon preferring to activate his audience’s tear ducts more than their funny bones.

Unsurprisingly, tissues are needed for the film’s climax, which turns the tables on the audience with a beautiful climax that isn’t so much a plot twist as it as change of lens. Without giving too much away, fans of John Carney’s 2016 musical Sing Street might get a sense of déjà vu.

Like so many Pixar films these days, Onward is a mature feature that has plenty for older audiences. As for whether it has enough to keep the youngsters entertained, well – you’ll have to ask them.

Onward is available now through iTunes and Google Play, and will be released on Disney+ on 24th April.

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