In the pantheon of Pixar movies, there are the greats (all four “Toy Story” movies, “Finding Nemo, ” “Inside Out,” “The Incredibles”) and the not-so-great (“Monsters University,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Cars 2”). Unfortunately, the studio’s newest title, “Onward,” belongs in the latter category. That’s not really fair, because it’s not as bad as those three examples, but it’s not that good either.
“Onward” is the story of Ian Lightfoot, a teenage elf. He never knew his father, who died before Ian was born, so he lives with his mother and older brother Barley. Ian is shy and awkward, while Barley is boisterous but not too bright. If you know anything about animated movies, you know that means the younger one will find his courage before the story’s done, while the older one will prove to have a wealth of knowledge that helps save the day.
The plot sets the two brothers off on a quest to find a mystical jewel that will help them bring back their father for 24 hours. It’s a bonding experience with plenty of obstacles, many of them ripped off from other adventure movies like “Raiders Of The Lost Ark,” “The Lord Of The Rings,” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” Worse, the animation in “Onward” doesn’t have the stunning quality that the best Pixar movies have always featured. It looks much more like an old-school Disney movie than a paradigm-shifting Pixar project, without a single “Whoa! Look at that!” moment. The production design of the town, the school, and even the places the boys visit looked like something out of the fantasy-movie cliché handbook.
The voice actors include Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as the brothers, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as their mother, Mel Rodriguez as her cop boyfriend, Lena Waithe and Ali Wong as two other police officers, Octavia Spencer as the owner of a local tavern with a secret of her own, and (of course) John Ratzenberger, who by law must work on every Pixar project. They’re all fine, but none distinguishes themselves because the characters just aren’t interesting enough.
All of this may appeal to a younger audience that enjoys big-budget quest movies and role-playing fantasy games (both on- and off-line), but I’ve never been part of that demographic, so I was mostly bored and disappointed.
Before we were shown “Onward” at a press screening, we got a trailer for Pixar’s next upcoming movie, “Soul,” which looks like it will have a lot more humanity and a better story. I’m looking forward to that.
In the meantime, I give “Onward” a 4 out of 10.