‘Onward’: Sweet Spirited but with oft-seen visuals


“Onward”; Voice Cast: Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Ali Wong, Lena Waithe, Grey Griffin, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama, Kyle Bornheimer, John Ratzenberger; Direction: Dan Scanlon; Rating: *** (three stars)


There are moments in life when you wish you could bring someone down from heaven, spend the day with them just one more time, give them a hug, kiss them goodbye, or hear their voice again. One more chance to say: “I love you!”

This is exactly what Director Dan Scanlon’s “Onward” is about. The film is a fantasy adventure quest in a universe populated with elves, pixies, mermaids, orcs, cyclops, unicorns, trolls and centaurs.

The narrative bookends with the audience being told, “Long ago, the world was full of wonder… and most of all it had magic, but over time the magic has fallen out of fashion in favour of the convenience of modern technology,” while the story specifically revolves around two elves named Ian and Barley Lightfoot, brothers living in a suburban fantasy land, called New Mushroomton. They are racing against time to spend a day with their late father before a reanimation spell wears off.

The brothers live with their pet dragon and mom, Laurel. Ian a gawky, self-conscious high-schooler and Barley is the older, self-possessed and boorish one, who is eager to help Ian overcome his inhibitions.

Their father Wilden died before Ian was born, so Ian clings to Barley’s few memories of their father, as if they were his own. He is also convinced that growing up with a father would have made him the bold, confident man he dreams of becoming.

On Ian’s 16th Birthday, his mother gives him a gift his father left for him. It is a staff, a gem and a spell designed to bring back his dad, for a day! But the spell doesn’t go as planned and they’re only able to conjure their father from waist down. So the brothers and their dad’s living legs hop on to Barley’s rusty-old van “Guinevere” and embark on an epic quest to bring their dad back in full.

While the premise of the film is interesting and keeps you glued to the screen, the plot, despite being filled with terror and suspense, appears to be laden with oft-seen visuals, predictable close shaves, encounters with standard life lessons writ large and slapstick gags that deliver customary laughs.

Also, the dynamics between the brothers appear to be chaotic on the surface, but their bromance actually balances their relationship in a beautiful way — especially at the near end of the narrative, making the film sweet-spirited.

On the casting front, this animated film is supported by ace-star cast whose voices match their characters perfectly. Tom Holland does the teenage awkwardness of Ian to the tee and Chris Pratt’s brash, larger-than-life persona fits Barley like a glove.

The duo is aptly supported by Julia Louis-Dreyfus as their mother Laurel, Mel Rodriguez as the inconveniently large centaur who is a police officer and their mother’s lover, and the underutilised Kyle Bornheimer as the boys’ dad Wilden.

There is also Octavia Spencer as the Manticore, a legendary beast with wings of a bat, body of a lion and tail of the scorpion, besides a gang of punky pixies led by Grey Griffin who ride bikes since they have forgotten how to fly.

Like any other Pixar film, “Onward” boasts of ace production values and designs — especially the dreaded appearance of the Gelatinous Cube, a block of ooze that engulfs everything in its path, and the goofy final-act giant monster — a strikingly original dragon made entirely of concrete scrap. Unfortunately, these two props were totally underused.

Overall, “Onward” has its meaningful moments, but it does not tug the emotional chord wholeheartedly.

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