“Onward” Provides Pixar Movie Magic


Pixar’s latest movie is a simple yet rollicking affair as viewers follow  hapless pixies Ian and his brother Barley attempt to bring their father back from the dead for one day. The movie is charming in its simplicity, humor and commentary. Whereas in other fantasy-related films, the villain may be predictable but hammy, or just plainly evil. No, not for “Onward,” wherein the heroes stumble through a magical quest—the villain is time. It’s not grandiose or huge—it’s not merely a magical quest but a personal quest first and foremost. It builds off of a ridiculous “high-concept” premise, and makes it feel real through dealing with issues that are, deep down, universal. How do we treat our past, our own history? How do we treat each other in our family —how do we remember someone who is gone?

 To put it short and sweet it’s a very good Pixar movie. The movie’s art and animation are, as usual, gorgeous and help bring the fantastical world to life. The jokes hit, the heartstrings are pulled and it’s easy to fall in love with any of the characters who are all perfectly cast and acted, each one pulling from a different aspect on the spectrum of life. It’s a breath of fresh and relaxing air. It’s a wonderful bit of joy in the gloom and pessimism of modern cinema—despite the world it’s depicting. 

It takes place in a fantasy world gone wrong, a fantasy world that has turned into our world. The modern conveniences of technology have hidden magic in the world, where centaurs and pixies drive and unicorns are more ferocious than raccoons. This twist on high fantasy gives excellent comedy and commentary on the modern world—but it doesn’t linger too much. The movie is not about exploring the intricacies and implications of a late-stage capitalist fantasy society but more  about the people in that system and how they can escape and succeed within it.

The movie doesn’t lean on its sources as a crutch for comedy. It lives and breathes it; it’s a love letter made by people who love fantasy and all its intricacies. And it doesn’t exclude those who aren’t familiar with fantasy either, giving just enough to work on its own. But don’t start counting spell-slots or double checking dice rolls, because at its heart, it’s a classic heart-string pulling Pixar movie. 

This fantasy film is, like all good things, rooted in reality. There’s no illusion about it, no sleight of hand and no amount of scrying can tell us what we know about ourselves and those we love around us deep inside. Perhaps a thing or two can be learned from dreaming a little bit, as long as there’s humanity in that fantasy. Fun, full of confidence, an uplifting spirit and lighthearted (but with a big heart), “Onward” is one of Pixar’s future classics rooted in a fantastical past.