I can honestly give it that.
Onward takes place in a fantasy world like Tolkien’s but where the elves discovered electricity and found more practical ways of flying than on a broomstick. Technology took the lead and magic faded away despite the fact that it proves pretty useful during the course of the film.
Onward opens in 1981. Okay, they don’t really say that but it’s obvious, when you look at pretty much any part of it. The decor. The clothes. The early seventies barely held together with string and baling wire cars. All of it screamed the early Eighties. The single Mom’s sensible hair style and sensible car were exactly like my mother’s.
Ian Lightfoot, (played by Tom Holland) is a bleeding-edge Gen-X kid who has just turned sixteen. His older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) is a trailing edge Boomer. The movie does get this vibe right. If you are an early Gen-Xer you know what I’m talking about. The cultural divide between generations is that sharp.
Ian’s father died when he was a baby. He is very shy, scrawny, insecure blah, blah, blah you get the deal. His brother Barley is a burley, bombastic extrovert who is has a demi-paternal relationship with baby-bro. Barley is also a Dungeons and Dragons geek in a world where that used to be a very real thing. Tolkienesque quests actually used to happen. Barley wishes he could have lived in that world.
Ian wishes he’d met his father, whom has heard was everything he wishes he was.
After going through a lot of fairly tedious and by the numbers character establishment for Ian, we get to the first inciting incident. A gift from their father in the form of an actual wizard’s staff. Accompanying the staff is a Spell of Visitation powered by a MacGuffin Crystal that can bring back someone from the dead for one day. Barley it turns out has no magical talent but Ian as (clumsy and obvious) luck would have it, does.
Problem! The MacGuffin Crystal breaks before the spell is completed leaving their father only half resurrected. So they need to go on a quest to get a new Crystal and complete the spell.
Ian has a debate about whether or not to go on this quest. You can now hit that checkbox on the Second Inciting Incident.
They hunt down a critter called the Manticore that has turned herself into a Chucky Cheese type attraction. The Manticore has a quest map. They obtain the map and thus complete the third inciting incident, AKA The Gateway, AKA Break Into the Second Act.
Now comes the fun and games portion of the film where Ian goes through a road of trials that builds him as a wizard and a person. Long-standing conflicts with his brother are explored while at the same time his older brother acts as mentor to the fledgling wizard due to his vast knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons lore.
The quest is completed with a False Victory leading to the All Is Lost scene, where Ian screams at his idiot Boomer brother for being a Boomer. Then comes the Moment of Revelation where Ian realizes that everything he has learned on his quest was everything he ever needed to learn. He has been transformed and it was his brother that helped him do it.
The climax begins, a dragon is accidentally raised while finally retrieving the MacGuffin Crystal. The adventure is then completed.
Finally comes the epilogue where we get to see that Ian enjoying his new life because he has become self-actualized by his quest.
The story is a cookie-cutter plot, based slavishly on Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat script template. And it was only greenlit because Stranger Things blew up big and any coming of age Eighties story was getting a close look.
As you have guessed from my tone, it’s okay. You can watch it and feel you were entertained by it. To a certain degree.
But you don’t really feel that you watched something with any real heart in it. It was an animated film without the PIXAR Plus that bumped up a story about talking toys from the everyday to the exceptional.
It is very ironic that in a movie where the central theme is that magic is fading in the world, the PIXAR magic has clearly faded.
The why of it, isn’t hard to deduce. Onward is the first PIXAR movie that was made entirely without John Lasseter’s guiding hand. And it shows.
If you are really curious about it, it’s worth the price of a rental. But I wouldn’t buy it and it’s definitely not worth the price of a subscription to Disney Plus unless you are already getting it for free.
Cataline Recommends with Reservations.