THE MOVIE GUY — Pixar’s latest needs more magic

Published 12:02 am Friday, March 6, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

There was a time when the Pixar Animation name was synonymous with cinematic excellence. The studio had a 10-year streak of releasing superb movies that featured cutting-edge animation and emotionally resonant storylines.

That glorious past is gone, and Pixar films have now become hit-and-miss affairs. The movies are still entertaining, but with a few notable exceptions, the recent films don’t rise to the lofty standards of the past.

An apt example is found in the new Pixar movie, Onward. As befitting the film’s generic title, this is a generic story of two elf brothers on a magical quest. The film dutifully checks the boxes for action, humor and family-friendly themes.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The cinematic magic box? Not so much. For a film that specifically deals with a magic in its storyline, Onward is a decidedly ordinary affair.

Tom Holland and Chris Pratt star as the two elven brothers who are searching for a spell that can resurrect their deceased father. They are only partially successful, managing to bring back dear old dad’s bottom half, so the movie becomes a race against time to find a magical gem that will make their father whole again.

It’s no secret that the idea of a child missing his father is emotionally potent. This story offers ample opportunities to showcase the two brothers grieving for a lost family member, but the filmmakers instead turn their focus to the slapstick sight of a disconnected set of legs stumbling through the world.

This visual gag certainly provides some funny moments, and the film does deal with the thorny issues of grief and loss, but the balance is off. It’s as if the producers shied away from genuine emotion in favor of the visual stuff that toddlers would enjoy.

The film also suffers from comparison to other films that set up a similar world where magical creatures behave with anachronistically modern attitudes. The setting is designed to be just like the real world, only it’s populated with elves and unicorns and manticores and dragons. It’s not a new conceit, and you may find yourself thinking that films like Shrek or Zootopia were far more creative in their world building.

All of which sounds like I didn’t enjoy this film. That’s simply not the case. None of these critiques are meant to suggest that the movie is bad. There are certainly funny bits and emotional moments that will have you cheering. I appreciated the film’s oddball slant and loved the animation, which is still up to Pixar’s highest standards.

Onward is a good film, and I’m certain that most families will enjoy it, even if it doesn’t quite measure up to the quality of Pixar’s best movies. I simply wish that this story about magical creatures had a little more cinematic magic to turn it into something special.


Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at