Onward

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Onward
"Maybe its Disney/Pixar have set such a high bar for themselves, but the latest outing, despite all its fairy tale creatures, lacks some of the studio's usual magic." | Photo: Disney/Pixar

Maybe its Disney/Pixar have set such a high bar for themselves, but the latest outing, despite all its fairy tale creatures, lacks some of the studio's usual magic. It's ironic that the action is set in a world that is suffering from exactly that problem, as the elves, sprites and unicorns that inhabit it have let technology take over their lives. The result is that they have forgotten what magic they had - so centaurs, for example, drive about in cars and sprites fly around on motorbikes rather than use their wings.

This is where shy Ian (Tom Holland) lives with his mum (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and his doofus brother Barley (Chris Pratt) since their dad died before Ian was born and when Barley was tiny. When, on his 16th birthday, the brothers learn there's a spell that could bring dad back for a day it turns out Ian's a bit of a dab hand with a magician's staff. Egged on by Barley - who has a love of lore thanks to a penchant for Dungeons and Dragons-style gaming - Ian recites the charm his dad has left for them.

Copy picture

As any Harry Potter fan will tell you, however, charms often yield less than charming results and his maiden mage effort results in only half of dad appearing. And so, the stage is set as Ian and Barley face a race against time to find are replacement magic gem that will let them complete the spell. In plotting terms, it's decidedly complicated and that's part of the problem. Smaller children may well find the story hard to follow and there's so much going on as the tale progresses that the characters get lost in the shuffle - at the preview screening I attended, I could hear mums explaining plot details to their under-sevens.

There are some good ideas here but like the magic of the world the brothers are trying to navigate, they feel trapped beneath the surface of the much less interesting road trip. As with Dan Scanlon's previous outing for Pixar, Monsters University, the stuff you want the film to linger on, such as the clever ideas about magic becoming corporatised - illustrated by a fierce manticore (Octavia Spencer) who now finds herself serving up chain restaurant party food - are crowded out by the next set piece of action. Pratt's Barley has the lion's share of the fun, while Ian is just so bland, it's hard to get a feel for him even as he begins to feel more brave. There's no doubting that Pixar have a knack for delivering tears before bedtime - and the resolution of dad's plight is unexpected and sweet - but notwithstanding its sometimes clever design and moving moments, this still feels like a curious hodgepodge of other, better told blends of myth and reality that have been realised on screen in recent years.

Reviewed on: 05 Mar 2020
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Onward packshot
Two teenage elf brothers rediscover a bit of magic as they go on a quest to spend a last day with their dad.

Director: Dan Scanlon

Writer: Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley, Keith Bunin

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey Griffin, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama, George Psarras, John Ratzenberger, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt

Year: 2020

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

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