ONWARD (2020) – REVIEW

Pixar has been in quite a slump as of recently. In the past decade, there’s been a significant downgrade in quality, in terms of their production of feature film work. Producing largely sequel based products for nostalgia driven adults and children alike, the original heart and intent of Pixar has suddenly gone away. What used to be a studio which was world renowned for its universal stories of family, adolescence, and universal morals, has officially turned corporate with the dominated Disney merger. Of course there’s the occasional banger, with Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, though the 2010’s for Pixar pales in comparison with their early 2000’s work; where the team truly shined through with masterpiece on top of masterpiece. 

Commencing a new decade, Pixar’s latest feature Onward may have not been the greatest film to start a new renaissance for the now creatively failing studio. Onward is by no means an awful film, or even egregiously convoluted against the likes of Brave or even Cars 3. Though that doesn’t automatically make it one of the studio’s finest pieces to date. In some ways, over the past few years, the writing team has become frequently lazy with their storytelling. Ripping off identical story beats from earlier and better films, most Disney Animation and Pixar flicks have become increasingly predictable and redundant. These story beats include the obligatory separation of the two main protagonists at the end of the second act, the constant stating of the obvious, the nauseatingly unnecessary epilogue, and the heartfelt `family” resolution. For the first time ever, Pixar has broken their record of the amount of cliches and tropes used in ONE film with their latest feature Onward

Outside of the predictability factor however, is a beautifully charming story of brotherhood. The dynamic between the two leads Ian and Barley is frankly refreshing; especially when the “reckless senior” cliche (in this case the character of Chris Pratt’s Barley) isn’t overdone, and instead done humanely so. In most cases, there would be some sort of retaliation between the two brothers about Ian’s magical powers. Thankfully, Barley doesn’t go through with this typical annoying shtick, and instead is honestly portrayed as a supportive older “parental” sibling to his younger brother. It’s a refreshing change of place, which adds a sense of subverted expectations in a story that’s already filled with numerous familiar story beats. 

As with most Pixar flicks, Onward is undeniably gorgeous in it’s hyper realistic backdrops and simplistic character designs. The rendering and lighting is in full force with their Renderman Pixar software they’ve meticulously programmed over the past couple of years. Pixar’s primary goal from it’s initial inception was to innovate; to further prove the great lengths of computer generated imagery. With Onward, advancements were clearly made on a technical scale. It’s just that one can’t say the same with the rest of the project, with its meandering narrative, average voice performances, and audaciously irritating musical score. 

I’ve grown consistently disappointed in Pixar. There was a time where I was thrilled to watch one of their new features; expecting the best of the best from one of the greatest animation houses ever to exist. Now, it seems as though Iger and other corporate identities have infiltrated the writing rooms, and have replaced any real stakes, tension, or even motivation in their current and future projects. The majority of Pixar’s films feel unnecessary. While Onward does have some sort of significant purpose in it’s own existence, it’s a film that ultimately retreads similar themes and motifs from superior Pixar joints. Remarkably charming though hollow in it’s narrative skeleton, Onward is nothing more than a Disney product with a heart of gold. 

Onward hits cinemas nationwide on March 5th

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