What would it be like to spend just one day with a parent you’ve never known? The creators at Pixar have attempted to answer that question with their newest effort, ONWARD. Two teenage elf brothers growing up in a suburban fantasy world have an opportunity to magically bring their father back to life for just one day. What could possibly go wrong?
Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his older brother, Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt), live with their mother, Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). It is Ian’s 16th birthday and Laurel has kept a present from their father --- a father Ian has never known --- until this day. When Ian unwraps it, he finds a staff --- but not just any staff --- a very powerful, magical one, along with a letter from their dad, Wilden.
In the letter, Wilden includes a mysterious spell which will give him rebirth for only one day so he can see his sons. There is also a special gem involved, which gets destroyed in Ian’s first effort to complete the spell, which doesn’t go well. Consequently, the boys are left with only their dad’s legs. They have 24 hours to find another gem to make their father complete before this chance goes away forever.
Director Don Scanlon, who co-wrote the screenplay and original story with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, based ONWARD on his own experience with his brother growing up. His father passed away when he was about a year old, so he is well aware of the feeling of missing someone you’ve never known. A family member gave him and his brother a recording of their father saying only “hello” and “goodbye”, but to them “it was magic”.
It’s a wonderful premise for a movie and as Pixar does --- it is truly inspiring. The transformation of the relationship between these two brothers is life altering --- and hilarious. Racing around in Barley’s beloved, decked out van, Guinevere, these two opposites begin to rely on one another in ways they could never imagine.
ONWARD introduces us to a plethora of fantastical characters. There are centaurs, cyclops, sprites, satyrs, unicorns and my favorite, Corey, the Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer). Once a fearless warrior, Corey is now the proprietor of a family-friendly restaurant featuring games and karaoke. She’s lost her edge, but meeting Ian and Barley and learning of their quest brings this once-fierce fighter back to life --- and Spencer gives her a voice to be reckoned with.
But it is the unicorns who surprise. Not the gorgeous horned equines we see in the prologue, these creatures ravage garbage bins looking for food --- hissing at anything or anyone who comes close to their food source. Very much against type ---
As one would expect from Pixar, ONWARD is beautiful to look at with superb animation and sets. These creators don’t fool
around --- everything is entrancing. Add to all this a terrific score by brothers (how appropriate) Mychael and Jeff Danna, and you will be treated to a truly enjoyable time at the movies.
Opinion: See It Now!
ONWARD is the latest effort from Pixar Animation Studios (subsidiary of Walt Disney Pictures). It features a unique and wonderful premise, superb visual effects and an all-star voice cast, all of which make it an instant classic and total treasure. The film sends a message of brotherly love that cannot be denied, and its storyline may inspire awkward teens to learn that youthful confidence can be realized at any time in one’s life.
Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) are two typical siblings wherein one always seems to have the upper hand. Barley picks on his younger brother, and the latter lacks the self-esteem that many16-year-olds probably experience in those formative teen years.
But a fantastical quest sends the pair on a magical journey to spend time with their deceased father for one day. Ian has never met him but has made up a list of things he would like to do with his dad. If the boys figure out the Visitation Spell left by their father given to Ian on his 16th birthday --- then Ian hopes to do things like “play catch”, “laugh” and “tell Dad about my life” --- all the things on his list. Ian, in fact, wears a wristwatch counting down the hours and minutes left before the spell will expire forever.
The boys live with their mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), along with their pet dragon, Blazey, in a town called New Mushroomton. This diverse place, modeled after Los Angeles area sites, is populated by blue elves like the Lightfoots, along with trolls, gnomes, centaurs, satyrs, cyclops and unicorns.
I was particularly entertained by the fact that the denizens of New Mushroomton (the homes all look like giant toadstools), watch TV, play video games and use public transportation. Barley’s old, beat-up van, Guinevere --- a vehicle Barley cherishes --- becomes a major character in the story. He and Ian constantly argue whether to take Guinevere on the expressway or a less-traveled route to fulfill their quest. The travel scenes with the boys in the van are exhilarating.
Co-writer and director Dan Scanlon drew on his own personal experience of never knowing his own father, who died when Dan was about a year old. Scanlon’s resume includes recognition for MONSTERS UNIVERSITY (2013), his directorial debut of an animated feature that grossed over $738 million worldwide.
ONWARD is a tremendously emotional movie-going experience that had me spellbound from the beginning. Holland and Pratt in their voiceover roles completely complement the work of the animators as the brothers hit highs and lows during their journey. Small details play a big part, like the “D” for “Drive” button on Guinevere’s steering column replaced with a hand-written “O” for “Onward” – using my favorite, duct tape, no less.
Olivia Spencer is the voice of Corey the Manticore, a creature that is part lion, part bat and part scorpion. Once a fierce warrior, Corey is now an overwrought tavern owner trying to keep her customers happy. Mel Rodriguez voices Officer Colt Bronco, a half man-half horse (centaur), who is as annoying as he is fun to look at, and also happens to be dating Laurel.
One of the truly special moments in the film has Ian and Barley up against what seems to be an impossible leg of their adventure. They come to the edge of a cliff, and to continue, they must find a way to lower an ancient wooden drawbridge, sitting on the other side of the divide, to allow themselves to cross the chasm. The filmmakers conceived the Trust Bridge, where Ian uses magic to walk across thin air in his own footsteps. It’s both harrowing and comical, but it’s also a large part of Ian’s growing self-confidence.
Scanlon, along with two other writers, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, have crafted a truly engaging script. And we’re never sure if Ian and Barley will ever get to see their father, as Ian’s watch grinds down to mere minutes. The film’s all-important score is attributed to two brothers, Mychael and Jeff Danna, who immediately felt the impact of the story as Scanlon was interviewing them.
Allow me to point out the obvious --- Pixar generally excels in everything they attempt. ONWARD is one of those consummate cinematic achievements that will stand the test of time.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!