Entertaining Quest from Pixar

By Gleiberman, Owen | Variety, February 22, 2020 | Go to article overview

Entertaining Quest from Pixar


Gleiberman, Owen, Variety


AFTER almost 25 years, Pixar's track record indicates that it has succeeded in retaining its singularity. In the last four years alone, movies like "Finding Dory," "Coco," "Toy Story 4" and (for many, though not me) "The Incredibles 2" have testified to the enduring virtuosity of the Pixar aesthetic. Yet it's not as if every film the company releases is a masterpiece; that would be an insanely high bar. The studio had now made 22 features, and at this point you could divvy just about all of them into two categories: those that have vision and those that don't.

"Onward" is very much one that doesn't. Which isn't to say that it's a bad movie. Sweet-spirited and pristine, directed and co-written by Dan Scanlon ("Monsters University") with a visual prankishness that's friendly and winsome and at moments breathtaking, it's nevertheless the kind of Pixar film that feels like it was compounded almost entirely out of other visions. You won't feel cheated by it, but you won't feel elated, either. Yet Pixar, in its very bravura, has more than earned the right to put out a movie like this one - an unabashed piece of product, a kind of Pixar place-holder made with a tiny dash of soul.

The premise is just cockeyed enough to be ingeniously winning, though maybe more so than the story itself. "Onward" opens with a narrator telling us that "long ago, the world was full of wonder," and we're then shown an image of what the world once was: a leafy fairy-tale kingdom of elves, fairies and wizards. But the magic, we're told, was all replaced by technological innovation (we moved from gods and monsters to gas ranges and TVs), and the film then plunks the audience down in a version of the present day: a place called New Mushroomton, a middle-class American enclave dotted with surreal remnants of that ancient supernatural time.

Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland), a gawky high-schooler in a red flannel shirt, is a domesticated elf, with shiny blue hair and Smurf-blue skin and long ears, and so is his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), a heavy-metal stoner type in a patch-laden denim biker vest and spiked wristband. Their "dog" is a hyperkinetic green serpent, their stepfather (Mel Rodriguez) is a cop who's a centaur and the houses on their block all have mushroom roofs.

The film's best joke is that Barley, who alternates between speaking normally and lapsing into Pratt's imitation of a Jack Black voice of r-r-r-ROCK!, is obsessed with the mystic underpinnings of the ancient world ... but that just makes him a typical metal-head who has latched onto the music's medievalist trappings. …

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