2020 is the year Pixar decided they needed to stop with the sequels (the last 4/5 Pixar movies have been sequels: Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2, Cars 3, Finding Dory) and release some original material. So this year they are bringing us “Onward”, and then “Soul”.
Sequels come with risks in that they need to make sure they are being true to the original characters (ahem, Toy Story 4, big fat fail on that one… read about why I think that here), advance the characters enough that there is story progression, and keep us interested and entertained. While it comes with risks, it’s often better received than new material, which is one of the reasons I think they have fallen back on beloved characters until this year. Pixar did originally plan for 1 original movie per every 2 sequels, but over the last few years we have seen a major shift in this ratio, which is necessary to try to keep as many people happy as they are able.
Onward was certainly a risk. With this film they are hopping on the “magic/fantasy” bandwagon, which is perhaps something that they aimed to do. An attempt to find a “new audience”, or reach a section of the population that may not generally be into seeing a Disney movie… while still mixing heart, great animation, and strong storytelling as they always do. With this theme they are really aiming at the “RPG” aficionado’s out there, and honestly… I’m here for it. As someone that loves both fantasy and RPGs this was so much fun for me. Especially if you are a gamer; whether console, PC, or D&D, this movie will have a lot for you. More about that later.
Pixar is notorious for starting with a short. This time, they did a short with no other than… wait for it… THE SIMPSONS! While I’m not the biggest Simpsons’ fan, and it’s hard to even think of them as Disney, I did absolutely enjoy the short; it was clever, quirky and fun.
I always try to go into a movie with an open mind and as little information as possible about the movie so as not to be swayed one way or the other by opinion. I had no previous knowledge other than what I saw in the trailer… and so I was cautiously optimistic that I would enjoy it. I know that some were concerned it would be excessively sad; but honestly, aren’t we all used to Pixar tugging at our heart strings already? (Hello, anyone who has seen the first 5 minutes of “Up” knows what I’m talking about). I went in with my family (Danny and I, and our 3 daughters: 7, 10, and 12) and our friends (two boys: 6 and 9). The kids enjoyed it… no one was bored, no one was scared (which is great). They didn’t like the ending (more about that in our “Plot” section), but I definitely think that it’s appropriate for kids, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take any child to see it. We went just before the COVID-19 chaos, and it was blissfully quiet!
At the time of writing this, it will be interesting to see if all theatres will close, and whether film studios will put movies to Video on Demand the way that Universal Studios just announced they are doing.
In a world that used to be full of magic and wonder, the inhabitants of the world find easier ways to live life and forgo magic for modern marvels and science. So it is still a fantasy world with different creatures, but yet with all of the things we have in our time today. So our main characters are 2… Gremlins? Boys? I don’t know. (They’re ELVES, which is not mentioned until… about halfway through the movie). Two brothers and a mom for sure. They live in a regular house, with a pet (dragon) and have the same struggles as any adolescent. The “sad” piece is that their dad died when the oldest son, Barley, was little and the youngest was still in his moms tummy. The story begins with the youngest, Ian, turning 16 and struggling with self confidence (a thread through a lot of Disney movies… reminded me of Violet from Incredibles). He wants to invite some friends from school to a party and tries to get the confidence up to do so. At home that night his mom, Laurel, brings out a gift from their deceased father and says she “has no idea what it is” (Side note: Do we really think she wouldn’t have peeked? ‘Cause I would’ve for sure!), and this is where the movie takes a decided turn into fantasy.
We then get catapulted full on into a “Dungeons & Dragons” type quest with magic and adventure. The point of the quest is to spend time with their deceased dad through “magic”… the catch being that they only have 24 hours. They end up eating up much of that time by being unable to complete a spell to bring the father back for a day, but in failing it allows for some hilarious moments where the brothers interact with a pair of legs. We then spend the rest of the movie hoping that they can finish what they set out to do.
Obviously we don’t want to spoil the whole movie here… so if you aren’t interested in knowing a bit about the end, skip ahead… none of the kids liked the ending. As an adult, I can see that they were trying to make the movie more about the “journey” than the “destination”… and the lessons that were learned in the quest were life long ones. This is where I think it’s more of an “adult” movie than a kids one. The complexity of the ending was clever, and meaningful… but hard for the kids. I didn’t dislike it… but something to be aware of is that your kids may be enraged or even quite sad. My girls said they “didn’t like the ending, but they would see it again”. As an adult having gone only with other adults, it had the three of us in tears. They brought things back in a great way, and I didn’t feel like things were redundant that were brought up earlier in the film. Something as simple as Laurel working out at home ends up making another appearance. Even Ian’s penchant for writing lists came to fruition. Everything comes full circle.
I do know there are some that really, really hated this movie. I’m not convinced it deserves hate, but it was “just okay” for me. It didn’t really win me over, but I didn’t hate it either. I personally found it a bit “confusing” in the sense that they didn’t really land either the fantasy world, or this world. It didn’t seem to really know where it fit, and because it doesn’t fit, it weakened the story and charm.
While being your classic “coming of age” story, it does deal with some great points. I loved the metaphor they created; because obviously even though we have never had “magic” we have definitely forgotten how to do certain things. We always search for the easy way out, or the easy way to do things, and even in this fantasy world this is shown to be false on more than one occasion. I loved how it reiterated the bond between the family, and especially the brothers, for coming into adulthood is never easy even with both parents. But not having a father, Ian really struggled in his identity, and even his relationships with not just family, but with his friends. By learning more about his father, he learns more about himself, and he also learns about the importance of both his mother’s role in his life and also his brother’s role. Plus again, as a gamer, the whole quest based plot-line was just way too fun.
One of the things we enjoy doing in Disney movies is looking for Easter Eggs. These are all the ones that we personally spotted, and haven’t been “verified” in the sense of whether they are intentional or not… but one thing I do know about Disney is nothing is accidental!
– At the sink in the boys home is “Aurora” soap
– The Dragon mascot from the school “D” is definitely a nod to Disneyland’s “D” on tons of merch and from the original Disneyland sign
– Barley’s vest had a few different things, one was that a patch says “Hades”, and in some of the shots there were Hidden Mickeys in the shapes of the patches/buttons
– One of the stores was called “Sword and the Scone” (so clever!)
– Sorcerer Mickey’s hat in the manor
– One of the scenes in the “quest” (when they find themselves underground) was certainly a nod to Indiana Jones
– In the manor I got serious Matterhorn “vibes”
Quick tip: We used tickets from cereal boxes to cut the cost for our family! Love that promo.
Have you seen “Onward”? Do you plan to?
Let us know in the comments!
Have a magical day!
Erica and Danielle