‘Onward': Not Among Pixar’s Best but Still Full of Heart, Critics Say

Reviews criticize a basic plot but praise Tom Holland and Chris Pratt for bringing heartfelt emotion to their characters

Last Updated: February 23, 2020 @ 4:16 PM

With 10 Best Animated Feature Oscars, Pixar has a high standard that every new film it releases must meet. While critics say that “Onward” doesn’t quite reach that standard, there will still be plenty for families and Pixar fans to enjoy.

“Onward” follows Ian and Barley, a pair of teen elf brothers who are bequeathed a gift from their late father: a magical staff with a spell that allows the caster to bring someone back from the dead for one day. But when the spell only brings back their dad’s legs, they must go on a quest to find a new gem for the staff that can complete it before time runs out.

Marvel alums Tom Holland and Chris Pratt earned praise for their voice acting as the two brothers, bringing heart to a script by writer-director Dan Scanlon that was based on his own experience growing up without a father that died before he was born. However, critics also said that the film’s basic, hero’s journey plot and setting in an urbanized fantasy world paled in comparison to the premises Pixar has dreamed up in the past. Overall, the film has an early Rotten Tomatoes score of 82% with 50 reviews logged.

“It’s the same strategy behind a band saving its hit songs for the encore — make the audience leave on a high and they’ll forget the less successful parts,” wrote TheWrap’s Alonso Duralde. “But while the film’s sentimental climax will have filmgoers walking into the lobby still dabbing away their tears, it doesn’t entirely expiate ‘Onward’ of its many flaws.”

“Onward” hits theaters March 6. Read more reviews below:

Michael Gingold, Birth.Movies.Death.

“The dynamic between the two, as Barley attempts to get Ian to embrace his inner mage and adventurer, is what makes ‘Onward’ more than the sum of its fantastical parts. Pratt and Holland have solid sibling chemistry, the former’s boisterousness and the latter’s thoughtfulness nicely complementing each other. If the theme behind their saga–the power of family–is a familiar one for this kind of movie, it’s expressed sincerely, with honest nuances and a generosity of spirit that earn the big emotional payoff at the end.”

David Sims, The Atlantic

“Too often of late, the 3D-animation giant has favored those easy follow-ups to its established brands, producing only four original works (compared with seven sequels or prequels) in the past decade. ‘Onward’ is the kind of movie the studio should be focusing on: an inventive, sweet, and small-scale story that still shows off the usual Pixar hallmarks. There’s some nifty world-building, unabashed sentimentality, and a keen understanding of tone, with an ending alchemically designed to provoke tears from parents and kids alike.”

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

“Unfortunately, ‘Onward’ feels like an intensely personal project that has been flattened and diluted into corporate obsequiousness. Amid its easy-to-please desperation, you can still sense the ideas…and even occasionally be moved by them. But it’s all somehow too much and not enough: This is a busy, but impoverished movie. By the time the Pixar-branded tears and their empty emotional calories come, you might find yourself both exhausted and wondering what the point of the whole thing was.”

Justin Chang, 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.”

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