“Onward” is the latest animated film from Pixar and it’s hardly terrible or inexpert. Like all the movies from the Emeryville studio, “Onward” looks great, and it has a couple of strong scenes that are gripping and even ingenious. But as a whole, the movie is misbegotten, overlong and altogether unconvincing as a story of familial love. It expects us to invest emotionally in the relationship between two brothers, while making one of the brothers an annoying idiot and nuisance.
The film, takes place in a world populated by big-eared, lantern-jawed elves, on a two-mooned planet in which magic was once common. But, as we’re told in an opening voiceover, scientific advances rendered magic redundant, and so it gradually faded. One of the ideas of “Onward” is that the story demonstrates that magic is still alive in the world.
Fine. It’s not a great idea. It’s not one with a lot of promise: After all, who cares about magic, generically? Magic to do something in particular, maybe — that has some interest. But just going around caring about “magic,” like Blanche Dubois in “A Streetcar Named Desire,” feels rather empty. Still, a weak idea is better than no idea.
The story revolves around Ian (the voice of Tom Holland), a shy and awkward teenager, who feels bad that he never got to know his long-deceased father. In one ingenious scene, he plays a fragment of a tape, in which his father’s voice is heard. And then he plays back the tape, speaking in between the pauses, creating for himself and us a brief illusion of conversation. It’s a touching moment that beautifully conveys the longing for this absent parent.
Ian’s brother, Barley (the voice of Chris Pratt) is hardly a replacement as an older male figure. The movie establishes him from his first appearance as a loud, blustering fool, obsessed with some sword and sorcery game and given to speaking in the florid manner of a character in a medieval epic. He’s an irritating figure, both on screen and within the movie theater.
Anyway, when Ian turns 16, he finally gets a present that was set aside for him by his late father — instructions on how to use a spell to bring the Dad back from the dead for a full 24 hours. This is where “Onward” gets interesting, but it’s also precisely where it derails.
Imagine, a story about a father coming back from the beyond to spend a day with his grown sons that he barely knows — that’s kind of tantalizing. That might have been something. But no. Ian screws up the incantation, and so the father returns only from the waist down. “Onward” becomes the story of how Ian and Barley team up together to bring back the rest of Dad.
Actually, the spectacle of Dad as just a waist and two legs is borderline grotesque, and when the boys fashion a fake torso and head to attach to him, “Onward” becomes a little like “Weekend at Bernie’s,” but without the laughs. Meanwhile, the obstacles keep piling on, and the movie becomes a series of interludes that seemed designed to stretch the story without allowing anything substantive to happen.
A scene about a flying dragon turned restaurateur (Octavia Spencer) is tiresome, and so is the chase scene involving a motorcycle gang made up of insect-like bikers. The movie makes us care whether Ian gets to meet his father, and then does an inartful bait and switch, turning mawkish about brotherly love.
“Onward” goes on and on, but it barely moves forward. Long before its 114-minute running time has elapsed, it has overstayed its welcome.
Review Credit:Mick LaSalle at The San Francisco Chronicle
Below is the trailer for the movie as it hits the cinemas on 6th of March Worldwide:
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