Onward falls short of pushing Pixar’s boundaries, but it’s still a fun ride

Two blue elves hugging.

Structured as a classic fantasy quest reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons, Pixar’s “Onward” exudes a gentle, charming, and lovable vibe. The film is set in a world that once thrived on magic but gradually transitioned to science, opting for the ease of flipping a switch instead of mastering complex spells. Magic became a relic of the past, and the film’s world is still magical compared to ours, inhabited by mythical creatures like elves, centaurs, and cyclopes. Directed by Dan Scanlon, known for “Monsters University,” the film is enjoyable, even though it may not reach the same innovative heights as some of Pixar’s earlier works.

“Onward” incorporates the framework of a fantasy quest often seen in role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. It offers heroes, quests, obstacles, monsters, and an array of surprises, set against a backdrop of a world that once thrived on magic but has now embraced modern conveniences like cars, cellphones, and everyday mundane life. The film weaves enchanting and ordinary elements, making it relatable to our world. Unicorns rummage through trash cans, small dragons are kept as pets, and people drive cars. The story centers on two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, who embark on a quest following a heartfelt message from their late father.

“Onward” effectively combines the fantastical and the everyday, and it mirrors our own world’s transition from an enchanted realm to one based on rationality. The film resonates with philosophical concepts of a disenchanted world, where the supernatural was replaced by scientific explanations. This shift mirrors the decline of magic in “Onward,” where life is predictable, understandable, and ordinary.

Two characters in Pixar’s Onward.

The Lightfoot family lives in this “disenchanted” world, residing in a suburban setting. The two brothers, Ian and Barley, who are elves, embark on a quest, inspired by a message from their father, to spend a few precious hours with him. Their journey is filled with magical puzzles, everyday hurdles, and unexpected encounters, including a humorous visit to a once-majestic pub that has evolved into a family-friendly restaurant.

While “Onward” follows a familiar quest narrative, it adds layers of depth by exploring themes of brotherly bonds, loss, and the desire to reconnect with the past. Pixar’s strength lies in blending poignant and humorous moments, and “Onward” is no exception, as it touches upon themes of death and loss in a way that resonates with both children and adults.

In summary, “Onward” might not be as groundbreaking as some of Pixar’s previous works, but it still carries that unmistakable Pixar magic. It provides an opportunity to reflect on life’s ephemeral nature and find hope in the face of loss. The film, while not revolutionary, maintains the studio’s ability to enchant audiences with its storytelling. “Onward” originally hit theaters in March and is available for streaming on Disney+ from April 3.

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