'Onward' (2020) Review: My Magic Brother
The world of ‘Onward’ is the familiar mixed with fantasy. On the one hand you have all the usual signs of modern day city living, but on the other, the creatures often seen only in the books of Tolkein. It’s a world where magic once existed, but has been left behind in favour of technology. It’s a fascinating world, one that you see through the eyes of young Ian Lightfoot. A high school kid who’s just turned 16. His birthday gift, with the help of some forgotten magic, is the chance to spend a day with his father, who died when Ian was too young to know him.
The magic doesn’t go well, and Ian ends up with only half the man his father used to be. His lower half to be precise. Unfortunately, the legs and feet of any person don’t make for good conversation. Ian must find a way to restore his father fully, before the spell wears off at sunset. Thankfully, his older brother Barley is a nerd for all things mystical (or in this case history), and takes him on a quest to find the Phoenix Gem.
Barley and Ian are played by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland, and initially their performances are what you’d expect. Chris is larger than life and Ian is as nebbish as they come. As the movie goes on, their differences become their strength. With the help of some clever plot developments and heartstring tugging dialogue, the movie forms a strong character relationship. I couldn’t help think of my own brother by the time the credits rolled, with what might have been a teardrop or two.
Surprisingly, ‘Onward’ is least effective at presenting its incredible world. The film is small in scope, and mostly focuses on the two brothers. After a while, you forget that the world is filled with goblins, elves, and dragons. I suppose it makes sense, considering most of the inhabitants seem to have forgotten magic altogether, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting a little more exposure to the world at large.
The stakes are also kept relatively low, which doesn’t make for a fantasy epic but does help to cement ‘Onward’ as an intimate tale. The movie does take place over the course of a day and keeping it confined helps to connect with the race against time. The movie does a good job of showing meaningful development of its characters as well.
It’s not the cleverest Pixar movie. Some may find the film’s story rote, yet it seems a strategy. Keeping the story simple allows the movie to develop its characters, and at the same time harkens back to the storybook quests it’s trying to emulate. While that might sound like an excuse for the film’s failings, it nevertheless left me feeling a resounding satisfaction at the story that was told. A little bit of fantasy never hurt anyone.
Rating: Big Screen Watch.