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Pixar Again Earns Your Tears With “Onward”

If there’s one thing you can bank on when it comes to Pixar, it’s emotion. No matter the story that they’re telling, the animation experts will seek to bring you to tears. It’s one of the reasons why they’ve become the industry leader in making films that, while aimed at kids on the surface, are really speaking to adults. Onward, opening this week, is just the latest example of that. Children will see a romp with creative designs, while grown ups will be wrecked by the emotional message at its core. It’s another one of Pixar’s top notch efforts, starting off the year with a definite Best Animated Feature contender.

The film is an animated adventure, steeped in fantasy and magic. Long ago, the world was filled with magic, but as modern technology came into play, that was cast aside for convenience. We pick up the adventure in “modern’ times, where the fantasy world of yore has mixed with technology. Elf brothers Ian Lightfoot (voice of Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) have two very different ways of viewing the world. The former doesn’t think much about magic, mostly just missing the father he never got to know, while the latter longs for the spells and wizardry of a time gone by. On Ian’s birthday, their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives the two brothers a gift from their late father…a magic staff, along with a spell that will bring him back for one day. The boys mess up the spell, however, resulting in just the legs of their dad re-appearing. So, they must go out into the world in search of further magic, or else risk never getting the chance to spend another moment with their father. Dan Scanlon directs and co-writes here with the duo of Keith Bunin and Jason Headley. Rounding out the voice cast are John Ratzenberger, Mel Rodriguez, Octavia Spencer, Tracey Ullman, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, and more. Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna compose the score.

A movie about doing whatever it takes to spend a little more time with a loved one you’ve lost and missed? Yeah…that got me. Hard. It’s very funny, but the earnest emotion is what sets it apart. Filmmaker Dan Scanlon based this on some of his parental longings, and it shows. Little moments of deeply human (even if they’re elves) regret and sadness seep through, mixing with the magic. Two sequences in particular, which I won’t spoil, have surprisingly raw emotions. Pixar goes there, and while it’s not Coco, Toy Story 3, or Up, in terms of ugly tears, it traffics in such real emotions that you’ll be reminded of those gems. The fantasy elements are just a facade that helps tell this intimate tale to its fullest.

Onward is almost assuredly going to get a Best Animated Feature nomination at the Academy Awards. Whether it can win, especially with fellow Pixar competition Soul coming later this year, as well as Disney effort Raya and the Last Dragon, remains to be seen. However, you can basically mark it down as an Oscar nominee right now. Any other categories, give or take Best Original Score and Best Original Song, seem like longer shots. At the same time, we’re so far off form the awards season, it’s impossible to make any firm declarations. All we know is, at the bare minimum, Pixar has an Animated Feature player here.

This weekend, audiences young and old are in for a supremely fulfilling treat when Onward opens up. One of the better films of the year so far, it’s a treat for families of all aged. In fact, it’s a movie that’s just a treat, plain and simple. If you trust the Pixar track record of quality, you know what you’re in for here. You’ll laugh, you’ll probably cry, and you’ll smile the whole way through. What more can you ask for?

Be sure to check out Onward, in theaters this Thursday evening!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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