(This review contains mild spoilers for the Disney Pixar movie Onward, 2020.)
I have seen this beautiful movie twice now, and I’ll probably go back to see it more before April. I went into Onward with as little knowledge as I could because I wanted to be surprised. And I was, in the most wonderfully pleasant way.
First, the mixture of old magic and modern technology is so well done. The sprites drive motorcycles because they grew used to the ease of modern technology and no longer use their wings. And there are skyscrapers, but if you look closely, many of them have castle turrets on top, a fantastic touch. There were also rabid unicorns.
Another aspect I really appreciated was the way that the writers pulled in ongoing threads throughout the story. The tail light looked like a phoenix gem, which came in handy. There were several instances where Ian or Barley got a splinter from the magic staff, which becomes a useful tidbit towards the end. And the car air conditioning was a plot point!
During my viewing I managed to catch some neat little tidbits. In the grocery store there is “Cloak & Cola” as one of the soda options, as well as some jerky sticks that are labeled “wild boar sticks.” Here we also see Dewdrop, one of the sprites, eating a pixie stick, which I found strangely ironic. There are also fun store names throughout, the most memorable being “Sir Snips A Lot,” for the barbershop.
Other details that need to be mentioned and should be appreciated is the precision that the animators and artists brought to the scenes:
- the messy pen ink
- the peeling paint on an old wooden bench
- dust particles in the air
- tiny visible face hairs
- wet hair during a misty afternoon
- face oil and sweat when stressed
- slightly uneven and realistically imperfect teeth
- sweater fuzz
The coloring and lighting was so beautiful and well done! Overall the movie had a general blue tint, which transitioned to necessary green or red lighting to accommodate for stop lights and glowing soda machines. I felt the passion that the team had for this movie, all the details came together so well.
The amount of brotherly and familia love in this movie! I definitely cried twice during my first viewing, and got teary-eyed in my second viewing. Barley has had the role of big brother and father figure all his life, and Ian didn’t notice, not until much later. Barley does the stereotypical “embarrassing dad” things. He picks Ian up from school in his beat-up van, embarrasses Ian, tries to clean him up — with his own spit — , protects him, and teaches him.
“You’ll never be ready, MERGE!” Barley shouts at Ian while Ian is learning to drive in the midst of a crowded freeway.
“You can do this!” Barley tells Ian during multiple tough situations.
“I never had a dad, but I always had you.” Ian says towards the end of the movie.
Onward is for the nerds. Barley is a history buff, who play role playing games and Ian is a math whizz and science geek. Their dynamic shines throughout the story and their own individual quirks come into play in sweet and inventive ways.
Where this movie really shines, is the power of the MOM. The mom is so fantastic, along with her new friend The Manticore as they travel after the boys, trying to keep them from trouble. With the mom and The Manticore there is a recurring theme of female strength.
The mom repeats, “I’m a mighty warrior,” a few times throughout the movie. The first time during a fitness workout, and the last time in an epic battle.
Something that really made this movie spectacular was the variety of body shapes, voices, and people throughout. There was also a character with a disability and a gay character. While Disney Pixar still has quite a way to go in the field of diversity and inclusivity, this was a start and I look forward to watching as they go down that road.
There is a scene towards the beginning of the film, where Ian is listening to a tape from his dad. He interacts with it as if it were a phone call and not a prerecorded tape. I loved the way they did this, it felt so raw and personal. I immediately started tearing up, even though it was just the beginning of the movie.
Onward was one of my favorite movies of 2020, I can’t wait to go see it again and to own it once it comes out on DVD.