Onward Review – Pixar Proves that Magic Still Exists in a Technological World

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Onward Review – Pixar’s Onward takes us on a magical campaign straight out of a tabletop RPG and shows us the magical bond between brothers.

The weather is warming up, award season movies are no longer cool to watch, and Valentine’s Day candy is essentially free. This means movie season is about to start. Disney and Pixar are looking to kick-off the season strong with their modern suburban fantasy adventure, OnwardOnward is written by Jason Headley and Dan Scanlon, the latter also directs the film which stars Tom Holland as, Chris Pratt, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Holland and Pratt play brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot who live with their widowed mother Laurel, voiced by Louis-Dreyfus. On Ian’s 16th birthday, the brothers are given a gift from their father, who passed before Ian’s birth. The gift is a wizard’s staff that will allow Ian and Barley to spend one day with their father by channeling the power of the Phoenix Stone. Ian uses the staff and casts the spell, however, he is only able to conjure his father’s lower half before the Phoenix Stone runs out of juice. Now the boys must take their father’s lower body and find another Phoenix Stone to complete the spell before time runs out.

My Onward review might be a bit biased, as I recently spent a year attempting to find my father so it might be a little close to heart. Onward does a great job of capturing that inherent admiration a boy has of their never before met father. In that sense, Onward falls perfectly in line with the emotional impact Pixar fans have come to expect. From watching the interviews and press tour, I learned that Scanlon wrote the movie as a love letter to his brother, as this movie greatly represents his life and journey with his brother and father. Onward is a beautiful encapsulation of those emotions in every sense.

Holland’s American accent still continues to impress me as he masterfully captures Ian’s teenage angst. It’s not too far of a stretch from his Peter Parker/Spider-Man role, and his comfort and familiarity with this type of character are reflected in his performance. Pratt delivers a wonderfully endearing, goofy, and hilarious performance as Barley. It had a very Andy Dwyer-esque vibe, which was very entertaining and fits perfectly for the endearing yet sometimes disappointing Barley. With his Marvel transformation, I have to say Pratt’s comedy has been on a different wavelength, and it was an absolute pleasure to see Pratt inhabit a more goofy and shlubby character that he just can’t pull of with his current physique. Julia Louis-Dreyfus does a wonderful job as a doting yet strong mother to the boys. Louis-Dreyfus portrays a mom that perfectly found the line of parent and friend to her kids, that they equally love and are embarrassed by.

A particularly enjoyable aspect of the film for me, was that the adventure unfolds a lot like a fantasy tabletop RPG campaign. A big aspect of Barley’s character, and the entire basis of Onward, is based on what is essentially a fantasy tabletop RPG world. In Onward, this tabletop RPG is the adaptation of the world’s history into a board game. So, while it is a board game, everything in it is based on truth, making Barley an incredible historian and a perfect guide for the adventure. The trials and tribulations the Lightfoots come across are brilliant puzzles that I will be stealing and incorporating into my own campaigns. Onward, in my personal opinion, is one of the best D&D inspired movies to date.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I have to say Onward does not reach the upper echelons of Pixar movies. This isn’t to say it’s not a good movie, but it doesn’t seem to have the “it” factor of say UpToy Story 3, and Wall-E. My reasoning is that Onward sets up an incredible world that is rich and full of unique and world-building content. The stray unicorns, the biker pixies, the centaur police chief, are all rich and incredibly interesting pieces of the world that I don’t think we get enough. This is a world that would logically exist based on a D&D campaign. We are given glimpses, but never really get anything that sits. I feel a few more medieval puns or fantasy-related sight gags would have completed the experience. Because the story is deeply emotional and the world is incredibly interesting, but we just don’t get enough to tie it in and gel the two together like the different zones in Inside Out or Radiator Springs in CarsOnward’s world, on paper, should warrant a new section at California Adventure, but never quite hits that level.

Onward is a magical story of brothers who embark on a perilous quest to meet their dad and discover the true power of the bond between them. It is masterfully written, directed, and performed, and will make audiences laugh and probably cry. Scanlon’s personal experience is fantastically translated into a heart-touching film that expresses the tragic love of a lost parent in a way that fully captures the tragedy without making it a downer. Which is a near-impossible feat and should definitely be recognized for the mastery it takes to pull off. While it may not have the same impact as other Pixar films, it fully embodies the qualities fans have come to expect and it does not disappoint. And tabletop RPG players will find it impossible to not recognize the incredible inclusion and immersion of the medium into the film. My Onward review gets a 3.5/5

Onward premiers March 6, 2020. Get your tickets now!Onward Review
 

 

Onward Review
3.5

TLDR

Onward is a magical story of brothers who embark on a perilous quest to meet their dad and discover the true power of the bond between them. It is masterfully written, directed, and performed, and will make audiences laugh and probably cry. Scanlon’s personal experience is fantastically translated into a heart-touching film that expresses the tragic love of a lost parent in a way that fully captures the tragedy without making it a downer. Which is a near-impossible feat and should definitely be recognized for the mastery it takes to pull off. While it may not have the same impact as other Pixar films, it fully embodies the qualities fans have come to expect and it does not disappoint. And tabletop RPG players will find it impossible to not recognize the incredible inclusion and immersion of the medium into the film.

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