Not a Movie Snob - Onward (2020)

Posted on Thursday, April 02, 2020 at 06:00 PM

Keep your pants on(ward)

Onward (2020)

Movie Review by Not a Movie Snob X

By now, the Pixar formula is nothing if not reliable. It's also nothing if not predicable. The settings change, the characters change, yet the song remains the same. In many ways, it's the same formula they've been using since 1995, when Toy Story changed the way we thought about and experienced animated entertainment.

Toy Story was about friendship and identity. Inside Out was about change and identity. Coco was about family and identity. Brave was about destiny and identity. You can continue applying that to every Pixar movie you like. They're all about something real, something we all have to struggle with at some point in our lives and how that something real affects, or informs who we are. Will we let our hardships define us? Or will they become lessons upon which we become stronger and better able to crack homers off of the curveballs of life.

In Onward, our protagonists are brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot. Ian is down to earth, realistic, cautious and calculated. Barley is fearless, extroverted, unconcerned with things that don't interest him. When they were young, they lost their father. Ian never met him, Barley has only faded, foggy memories. Growing up without ever having met his father has informed the type of person Ian turned out to be. Losing his father at such a young age has informed the type of person Barley turned out to be.

If that sounds a little saccharine and dry for a Pixar film, consider also that these brothers are elves and that this story takes place in a suburban fantasy land, where magic once ruled and wizards once roamed. An interesting take on this particular version of fantasy land suburbia is that laziness caused by an increased reliance on technology has snuffed out this world's ability to use magic. Magic acting like a muscle that must be exercised, or it will become flabby and useless (see also: Wall-E for another of Pixar's cautions that technology will create useless blobs of us all one day). Ian doesn't seem to believe in magic at all, while Barley, a history buff, is obsessed with it.

The boys stumble upon a magic crystal their father left behind, along with a spell that, if done correctly, will enable them to bring their father back for one whole day, so he can see the type of men they turned out to be. They screw the spell up and only bring back his legs, setting them on an adventure to find another of the rare crystals, so they can bring back the rest of him before his 24 hours of resurrection expires.

Along the way, there is plenty of slapstick involving the daddy pants character, as well as plenty of the 'who am I' pontificating that punctuates the journey every Pixar protagonist travels in one of these films. These journeys usually follow the same three act narrative road map and it's not a spoiler to say they always end up in the same place. A place carefully crafted to overwhelm your tear ducts with emotions you are, by that point, powerless to override.

And while Pixar has made a very lucrative career of creating films that appeal to every age demographic, Onward feels like it's aiming for the under thirteen crowd much more so than most of Pixar's filmography (except, perhaps, The Good Dinosaur, which is very likely the worst film in the Pixar cannon). The jokes involving the pants had my kids in hysterics, as did an extended bit where Barley is accidentally shrunk down to the size of a soda can. They also liked that the voices of Ian and Barley were Spider-Man and Emmet from The Lego Movie (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, respectively).

Onward is a good movie, especially if you like slapstick and most especially if you, whatever your age, have lost your father and would do anything to have just one more day with him. But it's not a Pixar all timer. To be honest, it often feels more like an imitation of a Pixar film, than a proper Pixar film itself. Also, the Pixar formula is becoming tired and obvious. I hated Toy Story 4 for the simple fact that there was nothing new in it. It was just recycled bits from the first three Toy Story films and therefore completely unnecessary. It was The Godfather III of Toy Story films.

Onward isn't that, but I truly hope Pixar's brilliant staff of craftspeople dig a little deeper on their next film (Soul, being released this summer) and give us something we haven't seen before. In the meantime, this is a fine placeholder between their last great film (Coco) and their next great film, whatever that may be.

Rating: ***½

Calgary Showtimes: Onward >


NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to