By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Honestly, I can’t recall a Disney/Pixar movie where I was as disinterested in most of the characters as I was with “Onward,”
the new animated film from director Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”).
As you’d expect from Disney/Pixar, “Onward” brims with lavish colors and all, yet there’s something missing in this busy and jumbled familial tale. Like that Pixar magic of old.
“Onward” is set in a fantastical world, but one which is rapidly changing due to modern technology. It centers around a lanky, introverted and pointy-eared teen elf named Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland, “Spies in Disguise” and “Spider-Man: Far from Home”). Ian, who is about to turn 16, is down in the dumps because he’s thinking about his deceased father Wilden (Kyle Bornheimer, TV’s “Avenue 5”) who died when he was a toddler.
Ian’s older and obnoxious brother Barley (Chris Pratt, “Avengers: Endgame”) is far from a father figure. Not only is Barley kind of a slob, he’s reckless and irresponsible especially when he’s behind the wheel of his old, tricked out van he affectionately calls the Guinevere. Peek inside its glove compartment and you’ll find a mountain of speeding tickets.
But for better and for worse, Barley is family. The boys along with their widowed mother, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Downhill”) and their jittery house dragon pet live modestly in the quaint New Mushroomtown suburb which is filled with colorful unicorns, elves, centaurs, trolls, a reptilian pawn broker (Tracey Ullman, TV’s “Mrs. America”) and a bunch of miniature motorcycle riding “sprites” who have an attitude since they can’t fly anymore.
There’s also Corey, an intimidating, fire-breathing Manticore scorpion (Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”), who manages a theme-park restaurant.
They all become involved in this scattershot story when Ian’s mom gives him a magical wizard’s staff that his father left him. It’s supposedly capable of bringing dear old dad back to life, but just for just one day. That’s good enough for Ian. He believes he can do a lot of catching up in 24 hours.
Yet, despite Barley’s best wizardry knowledge and skills, he can’t get the staff to cast the spell. Ian inadvertently does. Actually, Ian gets it half right. Only the bottom portion of his father returns. This is funny to a point, but it’s really kind of weird to only see his father’s pants legs and shoes throughout much of the movie. Even the makeshift torso Ian and Barley attach him, doesn’t quite up the laugh quotient.
The rest of “Onward” has Ian and Barley on this wild adventure in search of a powerful stone. If found, it could completely restore their daddy. The clock is ticking for them, but not necessarily for us as “Onward” feels longer than its 102-minute run time.
Anyway, their journey is plagued by a host of challenges and even some words of wisdom when they encounter a lesbian cyclops cop (Lena Waithe, TV’s “Twenties” and “The Chi”).
When Ian and Barley’s mother discovers that the boys are missing and possibly in danger, she calls on her police officer boyfriend Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez, TV’s “The Twilight Zone” and “Briarpatch”)--the half man and half horse centaur--to help find them.
For Ian and Barley, this magical outing is an opportunity for them to bond and discover their own power and courage. There’s a warm and fuzzy message about the importance of family among all the hocus-pocus, yet “Onward” takes the circuitous route to bring it all home.
Be sure to catch my N2Entertainment.net movie talk segment on the Kitty O'Neal Show Fridays now at 6:20 p.m. on radio station KFBK 1530 AM and 93.1 FM.
Check Out This Trailer For "ONWARD"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle (BFCC), The Alliance Of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ) and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.