Why Onward Is My New Favorite Pixar Movie, Despite Its Box Office Performance

Ian Lightfoot, Barley Lightfoot, and their father

You know, in the future, a lot of people will likely compare Pixar’s latest, Onward, with The Good Dinosaur. Like The Good Dinosaur, Onward started off with middling box office results and failed to set the world on fire like most of Pixar’s films. Sure, Onward has a lot more star power than The Good Dinosaur in Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. But at the end of the day, even though it will probably still make a boatload of money, it will likely still be seen as lower-tier Pixar fare, sitting comfortably next to your Cars sequels and A Bug’s Life.

But what if I were to tell you that Onward is now my new favorite Pixar movie, knocking Inside Out and Toy Story 3 off their high perches. I know it sounds crazy, but let me tell you why.

Dan Scanlon

(Image credit: MTV.com)

Director, Dan Scanlon’s, Story Is the Most Personal Pixar Tale Yet, and It Shows

You might not know this, but Dan Scanlon, who also directed the vastly under-appreciated Monsters Inc. sequel, Monsters University, lost his father when he was only a year old. In turn, he was raised by his older brother, who was only three at the time, and by his mother. Does that sound familiar to the plot of this movie?

It definitely should, and that might be why this movie, more than any other Pixar film in the past, made me tear up the most. Just the premise alone of wishing a father to return for just one more day makes me want to cry, but the fact that the director put his heart and soul into this idea, and made it feel universal, creates something that lingers for me long after the end credits. I’m still sniffing just thinking about the movie. Please don’t look at me.

Barley, Ian, and half of their father

The World In This Movie Actually Feels Magical

How do you make a world more unique than within the mind of a little girl like in Inside Out or Andy’s bedroom in Toy Story? Good question, but I feel like Onward somehow nailed it. What makes this world so interesting to me is that it makes me wonder whether the world in Onward is a hidden magic universe within our own world, a la Harry Potter. Or, is the world in Onward the only world that exists, and the characters within this world came up with things like cars and airplanes on their own? And if that’s the case, is the movie really a damning indictment on how technology is robbing our future of the things that made us great in the past? In other words, is technology robbing the world of our former glory? Our magic?

And then, there are all the different magic spells in the movie that are so, so cool. All throughout the story, I kept wondering, what magic spells will they come up with next? It created an experience that, again like Harry Potter, felt like true magic, and I loved every second of it. I was constantly engaged and surprised, and it left my mind wondering what else could happen in this world long after it was over.

Tom Holland

Tom Holland’s Performance Made the Emotions Hit Even Harder In This Movie

I love Tom Holland as Spider-Man. I mean, yeah, sometimes, his gee, golly performance kind of devalues the Peter Parker I remember from the comics. But overall, I think he really works as a character.

But Tom Holland’s performance in Onward is something wholly different, and a lot more subtle. It’s a quiet star turn, and one wrought with pathos and loss. Yes, Ian Lightfoot has some of the same wonder of using magic that Peter Parker has at times seeing all the cool gadgets from Tony Stark in the Spider-Man movies. But there is an underlying sadness throughout the movie that never beats you over the head and it feels entirely real. I myself remember putting on a smile sometimes and going through bouts of depression back in high school, and that’s what Tom Holland’s character sounds like all throughout. It’s an excellent performance, and better than any other I can think of from a Pixar film. It's that real and honest.

Ian performing sorcery in his room with Barley

The Story Made Me Cry More Than Any Other Pixar Movie

I know I mentioned earlier how this movie made me cry, but most Pixar movies make me cry. Coco had that “Remember Me” scene with Mama Coco toward the end. Inside Out had “Who’s your friend to the end? Bing Bong. Bing Bong”. Up had the first ten minutes, and Toy Story 3… well, don’t even get me started on Toy Story 3.

But even with all those great MOMENTS that brought tears to my eyes, I want to say that almost the entire run time of Onward put tears in my eyes. To be fair, any movie about fathers and sons is going to make me cry. Like that great scene in Silver Linings Playbook, where the father is telling his son how “it’s all about us.” But just the mere idea of a story where two brothers want to bring their father back for JUST ONE MORE DAY made me feel entirely distressed thinking about that countdown clock on Ian's watch. And then by the end… well, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it yet, but that ending is going to make me choke up every time I think about it. It’s that heartrending.

And those are all the reasons why I love Onward more than any other Pixar movie. I’m not saying Onward is better than Toy Story 3, Inside Out, Finding Nemo, or any of the other Pixar movies that people have loved for over two decades now (God, how time flies). But for me, Onward left the biggest, deepest impression on me, and it surpasses any of those other films when it comes to the feels department. In other words, The Good Dinosaur it’s not.

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.