Pixar Forges Onward With Another Strong Feature

Pixar Forges Onward With Another Strong Feature

This weekend Pixar’s Onward topped the box office opening weekend with a combined $67 million in ticket sales. After seeing this movie, it’s easy to see why; Onward combines Pixar’s strengths into a fun movie for all audiences. Light spoilers ahead. 

Onward takes place in a world where magic previously existed, but then faded into obscurity after modern inventions made life more comfortable for the average person. Although magic hasn’t been practiced by wizards for hundreds of years, some people are still capable of learning magic in modern society. The main plot of the film revolves around two brothers, Ian and Barley, who go on a quest to bring their father back to life after they receive a magic staff as a posthumous gift from him. The main obstacle holding them back is that Barley has all the knowledge to bring their father back after playing magic role-playing games for years, while Ian is the only one who is capable of performing magic, so the two need to put their strengths together to bring their father back in 24 hours. The plot is kept simple, with no villains or twist-villains, which greatly benefits this movie. Pixar has used twist-villians in several of their films, so leaving a twist-villain out of this movie is a relief. Similarly, without a direct villian that Ian and Barley have to face, the film can focus on how the two characters develop and learn to trust each other over the course of their journey. Also, this makes the movie enjoyable with each watch; there’s no lost feeling of surprise as there was no major surprise to begin with. However, with each viewing, there’s still something to discover, which leads onto the best parts of Onward: The worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding has been one of Pixar’s strengths since the studio was founded in 1986. Worldbuilding is a tool used in television, books, and films to help the audience learn more about where the story takes place, and how the setting motivates the actions of various characters. A good example of worldbuilding in a Pixar film is Monsters, Inc., a world where monsters get power by scaring children. Based on this alone, the writers can use the environment to help show what motivates certain characters, and how that impacts the story. In Onward, the story is set in a world full of mythical creatures who don’t use magic because things like cars and electricity have made their lives easier, so as a result, very few people believe in magic. Barley is the only believer because of the role-playing game he plays. The game is based off of history in their world, but because Ian doesn’t believe in it and Barley does, this leads to conflict between the two. The idea of a modernized magical world is seen throughout the film, the skyscrapers have battlements similar to that of medieval castles, Mountain Dew becomes Mountain Doom, and unicorns are the equivalent to raccoons. 

The settings and characters look great, and that’s because of Pixar’s improved texturing and lighting. While Onward isn’t trying to be a CGI live-action film, many close-up shots throughout the movie look photorealistic; one to look out for when you watch the film is when Ian puts a cassette player into an old boombox. Small scuffs and smudges make the shot look like it came straight out of a live-action film. One shot I paid close attention to is when Barley’s van drives up a ridge and crashes into an overhang of rocks. The detailing on the van looks photorealistic, and the way that the animators chose to frame the shot is similar to how a car crash would be shot in a live-action film. Pixar has continued to improve the quality of their films, which ensures that movies made today still look incredible years later.

Pixar continues to add fun characters in their movies, such as Dory in Finding Nemo and Dug in Up, and Onward is no exception. All the characters in the film bring energy and heart to Onward, but the character who does it best has to be Ian and Barley’s father’s legs. When the boys first receive the magic staff and a phoenix gem, they attempt to bring back their father with a spell, which is successful until Ian loses control of the staff. The spell stops, and the only thing that he was able to bring back was his father’s legs. Without a word, this pair of legs is packed with character, the way they move, the way they dance, even the socks and khakis they wear help the audience imagine what the boys’ father was like before he died. The casting for the characters is perfect, and Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as Ian and Barley works great. Pratt has starred in movies similar to this like The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, so he does an excellent job as Barley. 

While I’m talking about the characters in Onward, it’s important to touch on the character Officer Specter. Officer Specter has been praised as Disney-Pixar’s first LGBT+ character, an important milestone as people strive for more films that represent a broader demographic of people. However, the film has been banned in four countries in the Middle East, and Russia opted to censor the character’s lines. In the movie, the brothers disguise themselves as their mother’s boyfriend, Officer Bronco, in order to avoid getting into trouble with the police. Officer Specter thinks that something’s off, so she supports Bronco as a new parent, saying “It’s not easy being a new parent, my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, ok?”. This is the only LGBT+ reference made throughout the film, and one that might go over people’s heads. Similarly, Onward isn’t the first movie to feature a LGBT+ character, other movies such as How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Avengers:Endgame, have also made similar nods to the LGBT community with minor characters. Ultimately, while steps are being made to represent a more diverse group of people, many viewers would like to see LGBT+ characters take on major roles in mainstream films. At the end of the day, by slowly introducing LGBT+ references into movies, studios hope to ensure that the first major LGBT+ character in mainstream film is handled with care and is well received by audiences.

Ultimately, Onward takes what we love about Pixar movies and puts it into an original setting with fun characters, beautiful animation, and a genuine message of trusting yourself and the people around you. As of publication, this film is still in theaters, so don’t miss it!