Like many members of my generation, I grew up watching Pixar films. When I was in kindergarten, I obsessed over “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.,” watching them so many times that I began to believe that my toys were secretly alive and my closet was actually a portal to a world of monsters. I can still remember the vibrant orange frosting on my “Finding Nemo” birthday cake when I turned three. All of these movies are an integral part of my life, nourishing my childhood with imagination and adventure. My love for Disney and Pixar has only strengthened over time; being able to re-watch these movies and find new meanings has given me a deeper appreciation for these stories. And with recent hits such as “Inside Out” and “Coco,” the studio continues to tell meaningful, and oftentimes emotional, stories with strong, lasting messages and memorable characters.
So, when I first saw the teaser trailer for Pixar’s newest film, “Onward,” the sight of the little lamp hopping across the screen excited my five-year-old self. The setting, one that mirrors our world except with elves, pixies and rabid unicorns, instantly drew me in, and my excitement only skyrocketed when I recognized the voices of the two main characters: Tom Holland and Chris Pratt (a hunk!). Pairing up Peter Parker and Peter Quill to form a sibling duo imbued the trailer with a Marvelous fanfictional element.
At the beginning of April, Disney released “Onward” onto its streaming platform, only weeks after the film had been released in theaters. The new Pixar film focuses on the story of two teenage elves, brothers Ian (Holland) and Barley (Pratt). On Ian’s 16th birthday, the two brothers receive a magical staff that once belonged to their father, who passed away before Ian was born. The staff, one of the last traces of magic left in this fantasy world, offers Ian and Barley an opportunity to see their father for exactly 24 hours. However, something goes wrong, and in true Pixar fashion, the two brothers embark on a ~treacherous~ journey to complete the spell that will bring their father back for the day.
Although the plot takes the form of a typical Pixar adventure, “Onward” carries a life of its own as a heartwarming, fun journey for two brothers coming to terms with loss and discovering the familial love and guidance already present in their relationship as siblings. Even the ending, one of the most surprising parts of the movie in my opinion, deviates from the typical Disney happily ever after. But “Onward” still packs the emotional punch that Pixar movies are often known for; by the end of the film, I was desperately trying to stealthily wipe away fat, sloppy tears.
The cast brought the characters and the story to life. Holland captured the goofiness of teenage social awkwardness, first with his role as Peter Parker and now as Ian Lightfoot; Ian’s shy and nervous character is a founding element of the theme of finding self-confidence in high school, from his jittery rambling when he converses with his classmates to the trepidation of venturing out into the real world. As someone who lacked self-confidence all throughout high school, I found Ian’s awkwardness at the beginning of the movie quite relatable, especially when he finds himself struggling to be more outgoing or to stand up for himself. Ian’s first attempts at trying to merge onto a freeway (with the driving instructor screaming “MERGE!” as Ian panicked behind the wheel) perfectly summed up the utter terror I felt my first time driving on a highway; I can still remember my heart racing as I watched all the cars whiz by me. Meanwhile, Pratt’s humor shined through, aligning perfectly with his exuberant, confident character; there were numerous points throughout the movie where my mom and I were wheezing from laughter at his wizardly antics. Together, the brothers made for a dynamic sibling duo, a relationship that inspired many moments of laughter, and some moments of emotion too.
The animation provides an extra sense of fascination for the viewer. Especially when compared to previous animated films, recent Disney and Pixar movies (such as “Frozen 2” and “The Incredibles 2”) have exemplified the enhanced level of detail that animators are able to capture using 3D animation, and “Onward” is definitely no exception. From the elaborate details of the characters’ design (the strands of hair, the fabric of their clothes) to the tiny specks of dust floating around in one of the opening scenes, the film illuminates the growth of animation and all of its possibilities.
The move’s bright coloration also incites a new level of magic and wonder in the story. The movie boasts vibrant colors, especially when the characters use magic; for example, when Ian first attempts to resurrect his father, the electric blue, fiery red and rich purple colors that the magical staff emits truly heighten the magical elements of the scene and the movie overall.
Among a series of Disney live-action remakes and sequels, “Onward” is a breath of fresh air, providing a new story in a magical world that is easy to get lost in. If you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted movie to add a little bit of Pixar magic to your day, I recommend watching “Onward.”