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In Search of the Father You've Never Met: A Review Of Disney and Pixar's 'Onward'

With Onward, Disney and Pixar take a familiar quest—looking for the father you never met—to new directions and uncharted territory. It’s their first original story since 'Coco'

Pixar Animation Studios has come to mean excellence in animation ever since they arrived on the scene in 1995 with Toy Story. In fact, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Up, Inside Out, and Coco are just some of the titles that truly set new standards in terms of blending effective storytelling, with animation that astounded and surprised.

All released by Disney, the Pixar films were products that one could emotionally invest in as an adult, and appreciate on a level different from how your child enjoys the film. It was family entertainment that you didn’t have to condescend to.

For this 2020, two releases, Onward (opens next week) and Soul (set for June release) are the Disney/Pixar films to look out for. Onward will be their first release since 2017’s Coco that involves original material. Incredibles 2 and Toy Story came out in 2018 and 2019, but those were franchise installments. So there’s a lot of buzz attached to Onward, what with the two main characters being voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt.

As elf brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot, we have the makings of a buddy film, that turns into a glorious quest to enjoy the company of the father they never truly knew.

Barley was just a small child, and Ian a baby, when their father left this world. The two now live with their mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in New Mushroomton—a wonderful Pixar creation that imagines a commercialized, humdrum world where mythical creatures who’ve lost their magical heritage subsist. Centaurs are regular policemen, unicorns are strays that wrangle over garbage, and fire-breathing dragons are household pets.


On his 16th birthday, Ian gets as a gift a magical staff left for him by his father. And evidently, there are lingering shades of Coco and the absentee father with this particular narrative strand. I guess Pixar’s writers still haven’t resolved their Daddy issues. It’s the inclusion of brother Barley and his yearning for the lost magic to be rekindled that turns this into a coming-of-age, buddy, road movie. And this works in a manner that stamps genuine humor onto the outing. In terms of being consistently funny, this may be one of Pixar’s best.

I especially loved the second half of the film, from the scene with the Bridge of Believing. The sight gags lend to the merriment as there are strong emotional implications to the proceedings.

The film comes off as light, funny, and yet, with its moments of tenderness.

You’ll see the recurring foot-tapping theme, and the dance sequence as instances when silly and humorous, turn into tear-inducing and poignant. And it’s surprises such as these that allow the film to rise above the rather pedestrian narrative structure.

Dan Scanlon directs, and apparently, he lost his father at a very young age. Responsible for Monsters UniversityOnward has Scanlon working with much more texture and levels of emotion—and by and far, he succeeds in giving us a new, worthy of its Pixar pedigree, animated feature. 

Onward may not be ground-breaking like WALL-E or Inside Out, but it satisfies in a different way. And on that, I’m looking to Soul to be this year’s Inside Out.