Monday, March 9, 2020

Onward - Pixar's latest masterpiece

I knew I was going to be biased when I walked into Onward, since I'd already defended it on several internet forums and had a Barley dolly sitting at home waiting for me, but nonetheless I was still amazed at how much I truly enjoyed the film.

Onward then.

The Non-Spoiler Plot

Onward takes place in a magical Dungeons and Dragons-esque setting where elves, unicorns and the like used magic to coexist relatively peacefully. When technology came along, with its ease of use, the magic in the world slowly died out to be replaced with smart phones and planes. In this world we follow Ian and Barley,  played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt respectively, two brothers who are given the magical ability to see their deceased dad for one day by way of magic. The spell goes awry and the brothers have to go on a quest to find the missing component of the spell that can allow them to see their dad again.

Ian and Barley, The Emotional Core

Ian is the younger brother of Onward, an awkward 16-year-old who seems to be afraid of everything including making friends. His opposite and brother, Barley, is a geek by way of Wayne's World and is confident in his life, despite being seen mainly as a screw up. Barley is obsessed with their world's version of D&D, Quests of Yore, which is not only a role-playing game but an historically accurate game making it a mix between D&D and Civil War reenactments. His passion usually lands him in trouble as he tries to convince the world that things were far better back when there was less indoor plumbing and more hocus pocus.

It's the brother's chemistry that makes the movie shine, much like Elsa and Anna from Frozen this film focuses less on getting one of the main characters married off and more on the relationship between siblings, a dynamic that is all but universally felt. The film's overall message is about reestablishing connection, whether it's with the brothers connecting to their dead father, Ian connecting with really anyone, or Barley trying to connect the world to its lost roots. Without giving too much away it's this theme of connection that accumulates in the film's emotional climax, which had my party in the theater all literally reaching for the tissues.

The Cyclops in the Room

It would be remiss to not mention the major controversy surrounding the film, being the first canonical LGBT character in Disney/Pixar's vast canon.

She's a cop cyclops that has about a 6 minute scene and in it she mentions offhandedly that she has a girlfriend. That's it.

As far as representation goes it's not bad, an applauded step, but for me the real representation star came in the form of Barley, the geeky, loud, over sized older brother (gee, I wonder what I see in him). In my representation post I mentioned how geeks are still usually portrayed as comic relief at best and degrading stereotypes at worst. Barley starts out as a stereotype, the over-obsessed loser with no direction but to play his games and bore everyone endlessly about his obsessions, but as the film progresses he's actually shown to be more of the one in the right. Barley doesn't go through a forced change where he has to put away his toys and rockin' denim vest to pursue a degree in engineering, his knowledge of the old world pays off more than once, and those he comes in contact with start to see that the magic inside of them is worth the effort to pursue, despite the technological wonders around them.

Onward is the film that needs to become Disney/Pixar's new tent pole franchise, essentially the Frozen for boys and geeks. If you've been wondering weather its worth it, stop right now, get your tickets and go as soon as you can because you will not be sorry for the experience you get.


Click here to also see Ryan's insights about grief, inspired by Onward.

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