Disney-Pixar's new movie Onward features the vocal talents of Marvel stars Chris Pratt and Tom Holland. They voice elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, who attempt to magically resurrect their late father for one day in order to spend some cherished time with him.
It's a set-up that's ripe for emotional impact and big laughs, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer also featuring in the cast. The film is directed by Monsters University helmer Dan Scanlon, and the reviews are now in.
"Pixar returns with a great big power-chord of a movie– heart-pumping, resonant, and positively harmonious," raves Empire's Ben Travis in his five-star assessment. "Pixar’s take on the tale-as-old-as-time fantasy genre is, in many ways, traditional — a magic-fuelled (deceased) father-and-son story that eventually becomes a tribute to brotherly love. While it doesn’t break new ground for the studio, it’s a joyous reminder of just how brilliant Pixar is when working at full capacity. Like the greatest heroes of legends past, Onward is pure of heart, stalwart, and true."
Justin Chang writes in The Los Angeles Times: "Although it does not join the likes of The Incredibles and WALL-E in the pantheon of company masterworks, Onward is a touching, lovingly crafted oddity — a movie that acknowledges its borrowed elements at the outset and then proceeds to reinvigorate them with tried-and-true Pixar virtues: sly wit, dazzling invention and a delicacy of feeling that approaches the sublime. The result may sound like an incongruous pileup of genres on paper — picture an ancient storybook quest, a rowdy ’80s-flavored buddy comedy and an out-and-out male weepie in a noisy three-way collision — but there are glimmers of real enchantment and honest feeling amid the rubble."
The Guardian's Steve Rose describes it as "Pixar's best film in years," adding it's "Frozen for boys". He states: "The story slyly strays into matters of male relationships – fraternal as much as paternal. The brothers’ characters deepen considerably as they discover and reveal strengths and vulnerabilities. Amid the inevitable climactic action, the reunion with the father is resolved in a way that is delicate, unexpected and quietly moving."
Flickering Myth's Robert Kojder awards the movie four stars: "Rather than tell a story about magic, Onward uses a world of magic to tell a universally powerful story about loss and family. There’s a moment where Barley reveals something important about his character, and at that moment, everything about his personality makes sense in ways that elevate this story of elves to one of the most human things that will be seen in theaters all year."
Nevertheless, because the standard of Disney-Pixar's movies is so high, some reviews have cited Onward as a disappointing entry in the canon. Writing for The Verge, Bilge Ebiri says the movie simply doesn't have the character or emotional depth we've come to expect: "the whole thing feels so preordained, so tiresome at the level of incident and character. Pratt does what he can with his slightly too-large-for-the-room energy, but Barley and Ian aren’t interesting enough to carry this story, or to make us care in any compelling way. Dad, who says nothing and only communicates blindly via his shoes, feels more real than either of the two kids who are the ostensible heroes of this story."
And The A.V. Club writer A.A. Dowd agrees, saying the movie needs, ironically enough, more magic: "In showing us how every corner of this land has been stripped of its danger and wonder, the film ends up looking rather tamed itself; even the action set-pieces, like a speeding pursuit involving a gang of motorcycle-riding pixies, lack the whirligig momentum of your average Pixar chase sequence."
It's not long before you can cast your own verdict on the movie. Click here to book your tickets for Onward, which screens in advance on the 29th of February before going on general release on the 6th of March.