I can remember the first Pixar movie I saw in theaters. It was a Bugs Life, which is little more than a ripoff of The Three Amigos but timed to be more memorable than Antz. Yes, the late 90’s was quite a time where humanity saw the potential computer animation and thought to ourselves, “What is it like to be a bug?” But it holds a special place in my heart because it was my first Pixar movie, and I knew that the studio was up to something special. For the most part it has, delving into the inner lives of rats who want to be cooks, evil robot spaceships that want to be evil robot spaceships, and whatever the hell Cars 2 was about.
Quick note: If you see a ranking of Pixar movies and Cars 2 isn’t at the bottom, that list is lying to you.
When Pixar announced that their next movie was going to be a buddy comedy about two brothers trying to connect with their father in a magical world, I was sold up until that part where I remembered how badly Bright broke my heart. I mean, given their track record of “movies that sound like other movies” Pixar usually wins, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to see Chris Pratt doing his best Jack Black impression and non-Spiderman Tom Holland trying to find the cute way to introduce “gee isn’t this wacky because it’s a mythological creature” comedy.
I was wrong. Onward is one of Pixar’s best.
The movie is about two brothers, a timid one who never got to meet his father, the other Chris Pratt, but blue, who have to go on a mythic quest. They’re elves, and they live in this magic fantasy land where people stopped relying on magic because for some reason they think smart phones and family themed restaurants are cool. Seriously the best bit is the Manitcore’s Tavern, a once feared warrior now in charge of a family friendly hangout. But, when they try a magic spell to bring back their father for one day, it backfires because that’s what spells do in act one. Otherwise, what’s the point? Along the way, do you think they’ll bond? (Spoiler: They’ll bond.)
I have a brother of my own, so I guess that’s kind of why this movie hit me so hard. At it’s core, it is a story not just about brotherly love, but family in general, and the sacrifices that we make for them. In a way, this is the best thing and the main flaw of the movie itself. Obviously the movie is about Ian and Barley and their relationship: most of the movie is the two of them together on a road trip. Their father, who’s along the way as pair of legs in what I imagine is a horrifying existence, factors into things in a way, but he’s never so much of a distraction that he takes away from the brothers’ bonding experience.
That’s not to say that the bond between the brothers is a bad thing. It’s a very strong theme that ties together a lot of loose plot points, and strengthens the film. But, let’s take for instance the sequence where they encounter a group of motorcycle riding pixies, which is not a sentence I thought I’d ever type. Sure, there’s mayhem, but at the end of it the pixies have learned how to fly. Everything the brothers go through not just strengthens their individual bond, but manages to show the magic left in the world is around everyone, and that you just have to see it.
It’s a cliché. I get it. And I know we’re all supposed to be cooler than that, but honestly, it’s an important lesson because we keep forgetting it. Ian and Barley grow up in a world that’s full of magic, but no one wants to see it because some things are easier. That’s a recurring theme that the movie keeps hitting: magic is all around us, and yeah, things suck sometimes, but you have to pause and take a look. One of my favorite moments is when a curse is sprung, forming a dragon from the buildings and random stuff just story of lying around. One of the things it pulls in is the head of a dragon, the mascot of the school. It’s a funny moment: a friendly dragon face on this stone monster that’s presumably trying to kill everyone. But it’s a reminder that the dragon was pulled from real dragons that hung around, juxtaposed with the mundane. In this world: There is no mundane. Only what we refuse to see.
And that’s what this movie does so well: every little moment is punctuated by this theme, which leads us to Ian’s big revelation at the end, and the sacrifice he makes for his own brother, which is pretty huge.
This is why Pixar succeeds so well, even when taking the cliché way out. It’s their ability to fold that moment into something bigger. And honestly, it’s a message we kind of need right now. There’s a lot of bad going on, and we shouldn’t deny it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we should ignore the magic that’s out there.
Hamlet T. Wondercat says
Out of Five