Far from a Pixar classic, but Holland and Pratt have their own magic.
Disney and Pixar’s latest entry “Onward” has a similar vein as “Zootopia,” because it takes place in a parallel universe where goblins, elves, sprites, trolls, and mermaids are modernized with cars, cellphones, high schools, restaurants, fads, and basically everything us humans require. I was disappointed that the set-up never took any risks, and gave its supporting and background mythical creatures a mean streak.
For example, there’s a punk motorcycle gang full of vicious sprites and a pawn shop creature (with Tracey Ullman’s voice) bumps ups the price of a sacred sword from $10 to $10,000. And worst of all, the magic that once reigned this world faded away, because of the modern amenities and attitudes.
But I was moved by how writer/director Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”) reflected on how he lost his father at such a young age, and used that basis to inspire the film’s story. It involves two elf brothers-the fantasy-loving Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) and the awkward Ian (voiced by Tom Holland with his Peter Parker accent)-who both find out that their late father (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer) has a magic staff with a spell that can bring him back for a whole day.
The movie thinks it would be funny if it only bring back the bottom half of his body-the legs. Some would call it weird and disturbing for kids, other would call it a “Weekend at Bernie’s” rip-off, but I would call also it derivative, since I’ve seen this kind of joke on a Cartoon Network show called “Cow & Chicken” when I was a kid. Now, Ian and Barley must both fight against the clock in order to bring the rest of their father back.
Holland and Pratt were both together in “Avengers: Infinity War,” and after seeing that and “Onward,” I think they both make a great team because of their dialogue and personalities. Their characters also deal with some dangerous situations and their relationship, which leads them in question. And I did smile when Ian accidentally shrinks Barley, and when they disguise themselves with magic to hide from the authorities.
The voice cast also includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus (in her first Pixar role since “A Bug’s Life”) as Ian and Barley’s mother Laurel; Octavia Spencer as the Manticore who turns her lair into a Bennigan’s; Mel Rodriguez (“Little Miss Sunshine,” The Last Man on Earth”) as Laurel’s police centaur boyfriend, who thinks Barley is a troublemaker; Lena Waite as a lesbian cyclops cop (a milestone in the company’s history); Ali Wong as her faun partner; and John Ratzenberger has the obligatory Pixar cameo role as a construction worker.
“Onward” is not a Pixar classic on par with the “Toy Story” films, “Inside Out,” “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Cars,” “Monsters Inc.,” and “Coco,” because of its weak narrative. But it does work because of Holland and Pratt’s chemistry and their characters’ sincerely touching brotherhood. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (you know that’s Mickey Mouse) would have been proud of these elves.
And one final note: because of Disney buying out Fox, the movie is preceded by a new “Simpsons” short called “Playdate with Destiny,” in which the baby Maggie falls for another baby in a classic Hollywood love story sort of way, and must deal with the challenges along the way.
I, too, think the show’s comedy has been decreasing over the years, and I do miss the early 90s seasons, but I still enjoyed this short for being cute and flexible. And I think it’s better than “The Longest Daycare,” in my perspective.