Film & TV

Review: Onward – Nostalgia, Imagination and Fantasy

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By Helena Iciek

For the past few years, Pixar has seemed to mainly focus on producing sequels to their already existing films; appealing to the nostalgia of older generations rather than creating content for new, younger audiences. However, they appear to have broken this mould with Onward. There is a slither of self-awareness in this film, as it looks to show how easy is can be to lose creativity and imagination in our modern world, reminding audiences that we shouldn’t look for the efficient ways to do things, but the fun.

The story takes place in a fantasy world, in which the use of magic has been replaced with technology for the sake of convenience. The audience follows two brothers on a quest adventure that results from a spell gone wrong. In the beginning, brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) discover that they have the ability to bring back their late father for a day, with a spell and a Phoenix Gem that he left them. However, it doesn’t quite go to plan. After only managing to bring him half back, they must embark on an adventure to find a new Phoenix Gem if they want to see their father whole again. I must add, this is a fantasy film, so of course they have until sunset to achieve their mission. 

The wonderful thing about Pixar films, is the way that their messages can often appeal to specific individuals. Yes, they present usual platitudes such as “be yourself” and “seek justice”, but they also often manage to present stories that particular people, in particular situations, can relate to.

Onward, whilst is primarily an adventure film, is also a film about family loss. It shows how the loss of a family member can affect people, how not every family member experiences grief in the same way. Some move on more easily than others, some are capable of hiding how they feel, some take on new roles, and some retreat into themselves. The film shows the side of grief that we don’t often get to see in film: how people react to life after death (which is rather ironic, given the story surrounds the idea of bringing someone back to life.)

The film also gives a realistic insight into brotherhood, immersed in an utterly unrealistic scenario. We see Ian and Barley practising spells and following treasure maps, however, we also see how a sibling relationship may cope with the loss of a parent. We see them battle the highs and lows of their siblingship as their vulnerabilities become exposed, which I would argue elicits the most emotional scenes of the film. Even though the foundation of the movie is based on the search for their father, the most important relationship developed in this movie is a fraternal one. At the end of the movie, the audience is given an unexpected ending. However, it is still a satisfying one as it acts as a comment on the arc of their brotherly bond.

What I will say about this film, is that the score is somewhat disappointing. Such a moving movie, with moving messages, deserved moving music. However, Onward didn’t meet this expectation. There were so many points throughout the film that would have been made so much more emotional or exciting, were there a piece of music to meet the mood of the scene. Many of Pixar’s creations, such as The Incredibles, Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc, are accompanied by memorable scores or soundtracks which add an extra layer of sentiment to the film. However, writing this review now, I can’t recall one piece of music in Onward that made me want to go back and listen again. 

It is perhaps most important to note the experience I had in the theatre itself. Sat in front of me were three children, who couldn’t have been older than six. Throughout the whole film they giggled and squealed and gasped at the screen. Their reactions only added to the joy of the story and made me laugh harder than I would have had they not been there. Whilst it is good to recognise the deeper meanings behind these films, the whimsical characters and colourfully detailed animation should also just be enjoyed for what they are. I can only imagine that they will look back on this film, feeling the nostalgia that millennials and gen z’s do about late 90s- late 10’s Pixar films. It’s heart-warming to know that Pixar are finally making fresh content for a new generation to enjoy. Finally moving onward. 

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