Dungeon master; move forth into the cave and look for a locked treasure. Be on the lookout for a large dragon. Be sure the mage is equipped with the proper spells. This is one such instruction you might hear if you were playing a tabletop role playing game like Dungeons & Dragons. These games have given players of all ages a way to become a fantasy character within a world of quests, sorcery and medieval warfare. It's unsurprising that this would not only draw from classic fantasy, but itself has inspired future fantasy writers. So what happens when fantasy becomes reality?
Wouldn't be great to be able to drop everything and go on a magical quest like the ones you'd find in Dungeons & Dragons? In todays story, we have an interesting scenario where the ones undertaking the quest…are fantasy characters who have forgotten about magic. I really appreciate artists that attempt something unique about the fantasy setting and don't feel that they have to be within a medieval timeframe. Some can have a modern setting. Some can even have modern attributes like computers, cars and weapons. Lets see how Pixar goes forth in Onward.
In a world of fantasy and mythical creatures, magic is all but forgotten. In fact, this is a world where everything is modernized. There are suburban neighborhoods, schools that kids go to, restaurants where people eat, and most importantly, technology. Elves, minotaurs, goblins, and more have all used technology to steer more towards where humanity is today. If there's anyone here who still pines for the world of magic and classic quests is teenager Barley Lightfoot (played by Chris Pratt) who lives his fantasies through his table top games which is consisted historical content. He also tries to be a good bug brother for Ian (played by Tom Holland) and son for widowed mother Laurel (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
It also happens to be Ian's sixteenth birthday who badly wants to reinvent himself from his dweeby personality. He lacks the confidence and wishes he could ask his dad. But his father died before he was born and knows little about him. His mother gives him a gift that turns out to be his dad's old magic staff, including a spell that can bring him back for one day. Though the spell works, it only brings his bottom legs. Barley encourages Ian to go on a quest to bring the rest of their dad back before time runs out.
I'd say that Onward has an odd problem that I haven't seen from Disney since Treasure Planet; it understands the character arc and journey, but has a hard time with the rest. Does that make the movie bad? No, but it makes it kind of forgettable. To start on the good stuff, the story about these two brothers wanting to see their dad one last time is very nice. Even the ending, which I wont spoil, really makes you think of what the journey was really about.
To also add on to that, both Chris Pratt and Tom Holland do a good job playing a believable set of brothers who seem to fill in empty parts of themselves. I'd believe Ian would see Barley as a father figure. I'd believe Barley would be unashamed at embarrassing him younger brother. I even like their relationship with their mother and their acceptance of her new boyfriend cop.
So if it has the important stuff down, then what's wrong with the movie? It’s the setting. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of taking fantasy elements and putting it in a modern timeframe. But the setting needed more fantasy and less human. Much of what we see is so much like our real lives, it could have been swapped for humans and the real world and nothing would have been changed. Even the fantasy world it started out as seems like your standard fantasy world we've seen in Lord of the Rings, The Legend of Zelda, Dungeons & Dragons, etc… It probably would have been more effective to keep the fantasy world a total mystery, or maybe have it told from the perspective of Barley. If the fantasy element doesn't bother you, you'll probably like this fine.
I'll give this three and a half magical staffs out of five. I think I liked it more then a lot of people did, but it's also no where near the same level of storytelling that Toy Story, Up, and Coco were. It's an enjoyable movie from Disney. But whether its just as magical will depend on what your looking for.