For the past few years, Pixar Animation Studios has churned out several sequels to some of its most beloved films and series. This culminated with last year’s Toy Story 4, which just nabbed the Best Animated Feature Oscar at the Academy Awards, Pixar’s tenth in that category overall. Now, after a successful run of sequels, Pixar is getting back to making original new films, and it starts in March with Onward.
Hailing from Monsters University director Dan Scanlon, Onward is set in a suburban fantasy world and tells the story of two teenage elf brothers who embark on a quest to find what magic is left in the world in the hopes of spending one more day with their deceased father. The film features an all-star voice cast including Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer. So does Pixar have another future classic on its hands?
The first reviews for Onward are in, and it sounds like the film is not an unequivocal home run like so many of Pixar's other films, but there is plenty to like as well. CinemaBlend's own Eric Eisenberg found that this fantasy film was lacking in magic. He gave Onward 2.5 out of 5 stars in his review and wrote:
The film never finds an avenue to fully capitalize on its strong premise, and feels undercooked in a very un-Pixar way.
Eric appreciated the core relationship of the film between Tom Holland and Chris Pratt's characters and thought that Onward's heart was in the right place, but it didn't really deliver on the promise of the fantasy world it sets out to build. The feeling that Onward is a bit of a disappointment was shared by several critics. The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney noted how the film doesn't live up to the standard of its Pixar stablemates, writing:
Not every entry can be an instant classic like WALL-E, but the majority of Pixar's films are special for one reason or another. Which makes the generic bro humor and familiar Dungeons & Dragons role-play vibe of Onward a let-down.
A common thread in the Onward reviews is that there is a certain standard of quality that people have come to expect from a Pixar film due to the years of the company constantly delivering films that meet that incredibly high bar. And fairly or unfairly, that means that Pixar films are judged based on that track record of success. Because of that, some may find Onward to be a bigger miss than others. Slashfilm's Josh Spiegel highlighted this, giving Onward 5 out of 10 and writing:
Onward is a decent, well-paced, well-animated, moderately enjoyable film. It’s got a good message, an emotional third act, and some pleasantly surprising jokes. Onward is…OK. The problem with Onward is that Pixar’s original films are incredible. OK is, simply, just not good enough.
So it seems that Onward is not one of Pixar's best films, but that doesn't mean that critics didn't like it. On the contrary, there are plenty for whom the good outweighed the bad or the disappointing. Indiewire's Eric Kohn fell into that camp, giving Onward a B in his review, saying:
It’s not a star of the Pixar canon, but this big-hearted reworking of fantasy and emotional family bonds embodies the Pixar touch so well you can’t help but root for its success and enjoy the ride.
Another positive review of Onward came from the Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang, who wrote:
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.
Lastly, we have io9's Germain Lussier, who highlighted Onward's strong ending, while acknowledging that it isn't Pixar's best. Germain wrote:
Yes, it’s a little bit familiar, but familiar works more often than not. And such is the case with Onward. A great ending and decent setup come together to make solid, albeit slightly underwhelming Pixar, movie.
So all in all, it sounds like Onward is a case of managed expectations. Those going in hoping for a revelatory experience like Inside Out, Wall-E or Toy Story 3 might find themselves disappointed. But if you can approach Onward as a film and not the latest in a long line of near or full masterpieces, there's a lot to love with plenty of humor and heart. It's not a bad movie by any stretch; it's actually a good one, just not truly great.
As of now, Onward sits at 81% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on 35 reviews, but that number will obviously move some in one direction or another once more reviews come in.
Onward opens in theaters on March 6. Check out our 2020 Release Schedule to see what other movies you can look forward to this year, and stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest movie news.