Onward

 

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Pixar’s 22nd feature is yet another exhilarating, funny and magical tale overflowing with comic imagination

 

Onward

Barley, Ian and, er, a pair of trousers

 

Once upon a time there was a lot of magic in the world. But then somebody invented the electric light bulb, and then the gas burner, the motor car, the television and mobile phone. Dragons became domesticated, unicorns were forced to scavenge in the streets and elves became the dominant race. Gradually, technology replaced the spells and incantations and everybody began to take the new magic for granted. Everybody except Barley Lightfoot, an outsize teenage nerd obsessed with role-playing, Arthurian legend and mystical make-believe. Barley’s younger brother, Ian, is his polar opposite, a timid 15-year-old who daydreams about the father he never knew. Then, on his 16th birthday, Ian’s mother presents him with an offering from his late father, a gift designed for this special day. It’s a wizard’s staff with the potential to bring the boys’ father back for just 24 hours…

 

Onward, the 22nd feature-length cartoon from Pixar, takes us on a rip-roaring magical journey, but one that you just cannot predict. As to be expected from the folk who brought us Toy Story, Monsters Inc., WALL-E and Inside Out, it is packed with visual invention, meticulous detail and one damned laugh after another. But its greatest feat is to re-invent a threadbare genre and cast it in a whole new light. So mythical beings have taken over the planet, with Mom’s new beau both a cop and a centaur, the school bully a Gorgon and the proprietress of a themed restaurant a manticore (a half-lion, half-scorpion, with the voice of Octavia Spencer). One can have enormous fun with all this and Pixar doesn’t miss a trick.

 

Dan Scanlon (Monsters University) directs with considerable energy, and has surrounded himself with a choice vocal cast, not least the eternally boyish Tom Holland as Ian, Chris Pratt as his brattish (but essentially good-hearted) brother, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as their long-suffering Mom. But it’s the rollcall of other colourful beings that brings continuous delight, from a half-invisible man, a biker gang of pixies ('the Pixie Dusters') and a dragon made out of masonry. It’s also surprisingly thrilling stuff, with its race-against-time central premise barely letting up, while the moral of making the most of every minute and appreciating what you already have proving to be a sound message for the younger audience member. There’s something for everyone here, something that should hold up well with repeated viewings.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Voices of  Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Tracey Ullman, John Ratzenberger, Dave Foley.

 

Dir Dan Scanlon, Pro Kori Rae, Screenplay Dan Scanlon, Jason Headley and Keith Bunin, Ph Sharon Calahan and Adam Habib, Pro Des Noah Klocek, Ed Catherine Apple, Music Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna, Sound Nia Hansen.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios-Walt Disney.

107 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 6 March 2020. Cert. U.