Onward and Upward

Disney Pixar’s newest film offers quality quarantine entertainment


Erin Walters

Onward’s opening days were cut off when cinemas closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, it was released early on the online platform Disney+ where it’s available for anyone with a subscription to stream. It currently resides on the app’s front-page rotating banner for ease of access.

Fireworks exploding in the sky and a swelling crescendo of stringed instruments and crooning voices accompany the typical Disney ending. The fairytale closes with a romantic kiss and the promise of a life together for the couple who might have spent mere minutes in each other’s company throughout the duration of the film.

There’s nothing wrong with this brand of happily ever after; however, it’s not always relatable to the target audience of children and teenagers. This is where Disney Pixar’s Onward, a 2020 release, gets it right. With a focus on familial relationships of all kinds – from mothers, siblings, and stepfathers to parents who’ve passed away – Onward offers emotional moments anyone can relate to.

Onward revolves around two brothers and their journey to find a magical crystal that can bring their father back to life for a single day. There are several heartbreaking moments throughout the film where Ian, the youngest brother, grasps for any shred of information about the father he never got to meet. He replays audio from a single cassette tape and asks for the same stories again and again.

Overall, Onward did a tremendous job tugging at the heartstrings. I don’t cry easily watching movies, but a particularly potent scene at the end left silent tears streaming down my face. I’ve always had a close relationship with my older brother, so one moment highlighting Ian and his brother Barley was extremely impactful.

The animation style of the characters seemed typically Pixar with Ian’s facial structure reminiscent of the main character in Ratatouille. Nonetheless, the background art style was stunning. The visuals of the fantasy world’s double moons and jagged mountain beaks painted against a soft violet sunset impressed. The hilltops the main characters journeyed over appear to be based off the Scottish Highlands and the artists captured that beauty quite well.

The voice actors of Ian and Barley, Marvel stars Tom Holland and Chris Pratt did particularly well during the emotional scenes. A few times throughout the movie, however, I heard Tom Holland’s voice and felt jarred from the fantasy setting; as a byproduct of being so famous, I could only imagine the actor himself reading the lines, and I struggled to hear the character of Ian instead.

Some critics on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB argue that Onward brings nothing new to the Pixar repertoire, however, I’d disagree. The film might not have been revolutionary, but it does a brilliant job of subverting tropes. The beginning of Onward started like a standard adventure movie and continued as one throughout a large portion of the film, but that all changed towards the ending. The final scenes might have been predictable to movie buffs but as someone with no film critiquing experience, I was both pleasantly surprised and impressed.

Again, the focus on family bonds is something that makes Onward stand out from its predecessors at Disney and Pixar. Although Frozen is a popular film revolving around the relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa, I’d argue Onward offers even more relatable moments for siblings watching as it actually keeps the brothers together for the entirety of the film.

Everything about Onward wasn’t perfect, but it was a pleasant surprise after my disinterest in the trailer. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a film with a balance between hard-hitting emotional punches and family humor.