Pixar casts a serviceable spell with Onward

Photo Courtesy of Gstatic.com

Ever since their 1995 debut with Toy Story, Pixar has been churning out creative and imaginative films like it was nothing. True, they have a couple of snags (I’m looking at you Cars franchise), but you can’t deny that their legacy of films will last for a long time (for better or worse). 

The best element of this film is surprisingly the story, I mean Pixar is known for having great stories, but this one in particular stood out to me. Without giving too much away, the story goes from a father-centered direction to more of a brother-centered direction and it surprisingly works.

There are quite a few moments where the two brothers Ian and Barley really start to connect and that did make me care for them rather quickly. The third act especially does make this element even stronger; it even plays up more of the fantasy element in a more creative way that was sorely lacking up until this point.

But that story and third act doesn’t make up for the rest of the film. The more suburban-fantasy world the filmmakers created is shockingly not that creative, it’s not as lazy as something like Netflix’s Bright, but it’s still not that engaging. Most of the fantastical elements in this film are merely surface level, instead of raccoons you have unicorns, instead of people you have elves and trolls, instead of cops you have cyclops and centaurs.

Comparing this world to a similar idea in another Disney film, Zootopia, it’s very weak. I remember the world of Zootopia being filled with little details like different homes, different modes of transportation and even different weather to cater to all those animals. It was a world you wanted to know more about, you’re genuinely curious how everything works but I can’t find any creative or intriguing things about the world of Onward.

Another problem about the film would be the comedy. Not that it’s ever annoying or obnoxious, but it never felt like it wanted to be a comedy. Which is fine, don’t get me wrong, but if you’re going to have comedic elements in your film, either go all the way with it or just don’t do it.

The jokes in this film weren’t clever or interesting and again, compare this to Zootopia and you have tons and tons of visual gags, wordplay and animal specific puns that make the world not only engaging, but hilarious.

One minor, but significant element of the film is Specter (played by Lena Waithe), Pixar’s first openly gay character. Now when article after article started talking about this subject, I was interested but also skeptical. Disney had a similar situation with 2017’s Beauty and the Beast with Lefou being paraded as Disney’s first openly gay character, but instead of it contributing to the story in a meaningful way and give the LGBTQ community valid representation, it’s a blink and you’ll miss it.

I was hoping that Pixar wouldn’t make the same mistake but surprisingly, they did. This cyclops who’s a cop has only one line that makes a reference to her homosexuality and that’s “It’s not easy being a new parent. My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?”

Like with Lefou, it doesn’t further the story and the line is needlessly censored in Russia and the film itself being banned in several middle eastern countries, according to Deadline. Now does it bother me that Pixar has an openly gay character in their movie? Absolutely not. But what bothers me is that it feels more like pandering to the LGBTQ community rather than giving them meaningful representation, I genuinely think that the LGBTQ community would be very happy if their representation wasn’t just a throwaway line from a very minor character, but instead a major player in the story that gives the LGBTQ community someone to root for.

It’s actually sad that animated television shows like Arthur and Steven Universe and films like Brokeback Mountain have better representation than a Pixar film.

But overall, Onward is alright. It’s nowhere near Pixar’s terrible quality like the Cars films or Monsters University, nor does it reach the Oscar worthy heights like Wall-E, Finding Nemo or Inside Out. I’m glad Pixar is pushing itself away from making sequels and instead going in a more original direction, but I’m hoping their next film, Soul, is better.

If you have kids then I’m sure they’ll have a good time, but if you’re looking for an imaginative, funny and interesting film, then you’ll be instead feeling empty and wanting more. With this in mind, Onward gets a score of 2 out of 5 huskies.

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Myles Hoglund

Myles is a sophomore at St. Cloud State and is going for a major in film studies. He's also a member of the film-centered club called Cinescope. He hopes to become a film critic professionally like one of his personal idols, Roger Ebert. On top of reviews for the Chronicle, he also makes reviews on his personal Letterboxd account. So if you like his work here, give his Letterboxd a look.

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