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Onward 2020 Full Movie Reviews


This originally ran on March 6, and we are re-running because of its early VOD drop.

Onward” springs from a deeply personal place and nestles on a heartbreaking premise: the possibility of being able to spend just one more day with a parent who has passed away.

But the high-energy, pop-culture-heavy result feels frantically eager to please until it tries to yank at your heartstrings in the by-now-familiar formula of Pixar Animation. (And of course, the idea of a deceased parent as a crucial plot point is practically on page one of the Disney playbook. My 10-year-old son even commented on this while walking back to the car after a Saturday morning screening.) The film is episodic in structure, leaping from one place to get one thing before leaping to another place to get another, and so on and so on in a series of breathless fetch quests. But in the few moments when it settles down and allows its characters to interact with one another in a meaningful way, “Onward” provides a glimpse of what director and co-writer Dan Scanlon probably was aiming for in sharing an intimate piece of his childhood on the big screen.

The latest Pixar animation, Onward is heartfelt, slickly executed and potently effective as both a rousing adventure and a tear-jerker. But compared to the very best of Pixar’s output, this can’t help but feel like second-tier stuff. Set in a world in which magic has atrophied from lack of use, where unicorns are trash-scavenging vermin, where chubby centaurs rely on four wheels rather than galloping forth on four legs, Onward is, like so many Pixar movies before it, a deft blend of fanciful and relatable.

The backdrop, rendered in a purple-heavy palette that looks like a visual representation of acute sinus pain, is a stridently realized fantasy world; the story is down to earth and domestic, exploring the frayed bond between two brothers, Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt, exuberant), who lost their father before they got to know him. It’s the emotional rather than the visual element that does the heavy lifting.

A posthumous magical gift left for the sons gives them the chance to bring the father back from the dead for one day only. But the boys botch the spell and summon just the lower half of their father. This is not as macabre as it might have been: reanimated Pops is filled with a soft glow of enchantment rather than slopping entrails and viscera. But, hoping for closure or at least a few words of conversation, the boys set off on a perilous journey to finish the spell.

The key elements – a quest, newfound respect in an antagonistic relationship – are familiar from pretty much every Pixar from Toy Story onwards. But perhaps the closest thematic parallels are with Inside Out: both pictures, after all, are about negotiating a bump in the road of childhood. But while Inside Out is dizzyingly inventive, Onward feels a touch derivative at times: the world in which it unfolds is not a million troll-steps away from that of Shrek.

Still, the emotional impact is true and clean. The fractious bond between the brothers and their aching anger at the loss of a parent is evoked with exquisite sorrow and clarity.


Teenage elf brothers Ian and Barley embark on a magical quest to spend one more day with their late father. Like any good adventure, their journey is filled with cryptic maps, impossible obstacles and unimaginable discoveries. But when dear Mom finds out her sons are missing, she teams up with the legendary manticore to bring her beloved boys back home.

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