Onward Movie Review: A slightly-above-average film which had the potential to be so much more
A paucity of humour dents the overall story of filial love in Onward
Onward is a decent animated feature exploring roads many animated films have gone down in the past. Filled with magic and adventure, sibling rivalry, and the need for a father figure above all else, it is earnest in its attempt at creating a suburban mythical world that mirrors our own for the most part. That being said, it fails to deliver in the aspect of humour, specifically. But for a handful of instances involving a half-formed father (a walking set of pants and boots) come to life by way of an unfinished spell, there isn’t much in Onward to make you crack up.
The film suffers from a dose of predictability as well. This may be due to the fact that it addresses motifs that have been more or less dealt with before. Had the story mixed things up a little it could well have been more engaging. It focuses solely on the teenage elven boys and their quest for the elusive Phoenix Gem – a magical stone that possesses the power to bring back their father for a day. But if additional screen time had been accorded to the manticore, it would have lifted the humour quotient of the film. One such funny instance involves the manticore being weighed down by the demands of her themed restaurant. The daily drudgery has her so wound up that she has all but forgotten her former days of valour and glory. If only the gags had continued from thereon.
Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer
The bond between brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot (Tom Holland and Christ Pratt, respectively) is at the core of Onward, and it comes off rather well. A pair of opposites, Ian, the more reserved younger brother lacking in confidence is overshadowed by his bull-in-the-China-shop older sibling, Barley, who believes anything is possible (including magic) so long as one gives it an earnest try. Though the former is somewhat ashamed of his brother’s unstoppable antics, he is also a tad wistful of his own missing initiative when it comes to pursuing adventure.
The film has some nice touches such as Ian’s long list reserved for the time he will come face-to-face with the deceased father he never got to meet, Barley’s unwavering faith in Ian’s ability to perform magic, and Ian’s late realisation of the real father figure in his life. But, it gets a bit boring in the middle with the long road trip to find the Phoenix Gem. If these parts had more humour infused into them (along with the sequences of magic and adventure), it could have saved Onward from dragging on, so to speak.
For its failure to completely engage you through its 100-plus minutes, the film falls into the just-above-average category. Yes, the animation is great, and so too is the voice acting from the cast, but the story is bereft of enough novelty to sustain. This mediocre writing (especially in those parts involving suspense and laughter) affects the film in more ways than one.
However, it does get the emotional aspects of filial love spot on. Onward clearly had the potential to be more than what made it to the final cut. Older children can take away quite a bit from the serious, self-reflective parts – the absence of a father, looking up to a brother everyone considers a screw-up, the need to believe in oneself, and so on. But it isn’t as fun as it ought to have been. Watchable? Sure. Could have better? Most definitely!