Normally, there’s a three-month lag before a new release hits the DVD market. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, streaming services jumped the gun and now we’re in this odd period where those films are coming out on DVD.
One you’d probably include in your home library is “Onward,” the latest Pixar release that should make dads cry. Openly.
Set in a world of elves and other magical creatures, “Onward” follows two brothers on a journey to bring their late father back for one day. Unfortunately, the tools at their disposal only make his bottom half appear. To get the top (and answers to all those questions they’ve had since he died), they’ve got to find a magic stone. That means they’ve got to go on a scavenger hunt of sorts, picking up clues that will put it all together.
Ian (Tom Holland) gets a magic staff on his 16th birthday. Older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) believes it’s related to “Quests of Yore,” a Dungeons and Dragons-type game that links contemporary New Mushroomton with the past.
Because elves, mermaids, dragons, trolls and centaurs roam the town, none of that is a big deal anymore.
Indeed, the town’s oracle (called the Manticore) is now running a Medieval Times-type restaurant that plays off much of the past. She has secrets, but they don’t come out until she has had ample time to flambe the main course.
Director Dan Scanlon stuffs his film with plenty of characters (not unlike his earlier “Monsters University”) and suggests enough action to fuel a theme park thrill ride, but he’s not exactly working with an original playbook.
Bits of this look like “Weekend at Bernie’s,” “Zootopia” and “Lord of the Rings” mashed together. The brothers seem familiar as well but the overriding idea – what would you do if you had one more day with someone who had died? – is a good one.
Holland captures all of Ian’s enthusiasm and longing. He’s such a great voice actor Pixar should make him a regular. Pratt, meanwhile, delivers what he usually delivers. Barley isn’t as dramatically dense as Ian, but he helps move the story along.
When the two go on their road trip (in Barley’s broken-down van) they get to meet even more of those characters Scanlon has commissioned. If the goal is to create enough intellectual property for toys and T-shirts, the director has succeeded admirably.
“Onward” takes more of a lateral path on its way to that emotional high. It’s not Pixar’s best route to understanding, but it is one filled with plenty of visuals. None lingers, particularly when tears make much of the activity difficult to see.
Thanks to Holland, Octavia Spencer (as the Manticore) and Tracey Ullman (in a bit part that should have been expanded), there’s lots of life in a film that talks more than a little about death.
It’s a good film to show when quarantined family negotiations have stalled. Onward? You bet.