Onward (U)

onward_quadDirector: Dan Scanlon

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tracey Ullman, Mel Rodriguez and Octavia Spencer

Run time: 1h 42min

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Pixar, the masters of animated film, continuously raise the bar for thought-provoking, kaleidoscopically coloured cinema. Handling challenging subjects such as grief and loss, their ability to convey complex emotions in a non-patronising way sets them apart. Their latest offering, Onward, maintains that high standard and brings forth another delightful tale that is simply a joy to be a part of. 

Set in a fantasy land where wizards, mythical creatures and magic were once rife, this mystical realm has since become commercialised by progress and invention, leaving magic a distant memory. Unicorns no longer gracefully fly free, but rather rabidly raid trash-cans for scraps of food, centaurs use cars instead of going on the hoof and once delicate sprites have forgotten what their wings are for and use Harley-Davidson motorbikes to get around. 

But one Elf still firmly believes in the wonder of magic and is obsessed with his town’s enchanted past. Barley Lightfoot (Pratt) immerses himself in fantasy game, Quests of Yore (think Dungeons and Dragons), and hams it up spectacularly speaking in Ye Olde English and presenting a loud, confident, easy-going personality. His younger sibling, Ian (Holland), is the opposite. Socially awkward, shy, desperate to fit in at school and regularly embarrassed by Barley’s extravagant behaviour. Raised by their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus), sadly, neither brother really remembers their father who died when they were young. When Ian turns 16, the boys are presented with the opportunity to spend one full day with dad courtesy of a magical staff and a Phoenix Gem that has been left to them as a present. However, their ‘visitation’ spell doesn’t quite have the legs required and the boys are left with 24 hours to put things right or miss out on seeing him completely. Literally. And so begins their quest and an epic journey of adventure, discovery and sacrifice all delivered in Pixar’s own inimitable way.

Holland and Pratt’s easy riffing (you can almost hear Spider-Man and Star-Lord chuckling away in the background) combined with frequent visual gags showcasing astonishing attention to detail and some exciting set-pieces, including a frantic freeway chase, make light of an almost two-hour run time. There are numerous emotional moments, none more so than a simple dance that starts out as slapstick, but ends up wonderfully tender and poignant as well as the huge impact something as small as one foot touching another can produce.

Not to be outdone by the boys, Laurel has her own mission as she teams up with a manticore (Spencer), an occasionally terrifying creature that’s part bat, scorpion and lion, to try and keep her sons out of trouble. Together, the unlikely action-heroes wreak havoc and could probably have their own film. It’s worth noting that there’s also a brief, yet important, acknowledgment of the LGBTQ+ community.

Pleasing on the eye, funny and, yet again, handling death with sensitivity and tact, Onward takes Pixar’s dominance forward. Full of pathos, charm and love, it’s a story as enchanting as the world it inhabits and thoroughly bewitching.

Onward will cast its spell over UK cinemas from March 6th 2020.

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