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In review: Solid ‘Onward’ misses key character

I am in no ways saying that “Onward” is a bad movie, I loved parts of it, especially the brotherly bond between Ian and Barley Lightfoot but, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while every movie Pixar produces is good, some are better than others. “Onward” falls in the others category.

The movie takes place on a world where mythical creatures and magic are real. Due to the difficulty of mastering magic and the easiness of technology, magic is lost and forgotten. It is only remembered in a D&D-esque game played by Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt), an elf who lives with his mother, Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and younger brother, Iandore “Ian” (voiced by Tom Holland).

Ian and Barley’s father, Wilden (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer) died shortly before Ian was born. Having never met his father, Ian longs to have one memory with him like his older brother Barley, who has 3.

He even plays an old audio cassette and pretends to have a conversation with him in a scene that really tugs at the heart strings.

On Ian’s 16th birthday, he and Barley receive a present from their father that includes: a magical staff, a Phoenix gem, a letter from their father, and a guide to a “visitation spell” that will resurrect Wilden once, for one day. Barley quickly puts the gem in the staff and tries to bring back their father multiple times to no avail.

Later that night, Ian tries the spell and it works — until Barley interferes, and the spell stops leaving only the lower half of their father reanimated.

Figuring the only way to fix it is to find another Phoenix Gem, the brothers leave on a quest to find another gem to bring back their father’s top half as well.

Leaving with their father, they disguise him with a makeshift top half and sunglasses. This provided much of the humor, for me anyways, as it reminded of “Weekend at Bernie’s” at times.

Their first stop is the Manticore’s Tavern, a family restaurant owned by a Manticore named Corey (voiced by Octavia Spencer). Upon realizing she has lost her wild ways she accidentally destroys the map.

Ian and Barley make it out of the restaurant with a kid’s menu. On the menu is a map to a Phoenix Gem and a clue: Raven’s Point.

Ian and Barley resume their quest and head to Raven’s Point with their disguised father.

Having discovered her boys have gone off on a magical quest, Laurel calls her boyfriend, Colt Bronco, a centaur police officer, and heads after the brothers herself with Corey after it is revealed a curse surrounds the gem.

The brothers’ magical quest reveals hidden truths between the two as they share laughs and adventure, and are united by the bonds of brotherly love.

I may have gone into this movie with too high of expectations. While I expected the great amount of heartfelt moments that are sprinkled throughout this movie, I was expecting it to be funnier.

While the “Weekend at Bernie’s” running gag throughout the movie was funny, and there is a hilarious sequence with a pixie biker gang, the rest of the humor of “Onward” fell flat or, in this case, had a timing belt issue.

The other problem I have with the movie is simple: There was no villain. Yes, there is a curse, but there is little investment in the villain the curse produces, its payoff is just as little. It’s the same problem I have with “Frozen 2.” There wasn’t really a villain in that either.

John Lasseter, the former chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation until sexual misconduct allegations forced him out, was always adamant of having a great villain in every Pixar (and later, Disney) movie because it raises the stakes for our heroes and makes their win at the end all the more satisfying. I’m not saying Jennifer Lee, the current Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation is doing a bad job, it’s a steep learning curve and difficult to replace someone as creatively savvy as Lasseter was.

While I did like this movie, I didn’t like it as much as I was hoping I would. My only hope is this, and the two Disney films preceding it, are not a sign of a decline in quality from a studio that hasn’t produced a movie I haven’t liked since Lasseter took over creative control in 2006.

J. A. Latona is a Dunkirk resident in charge of local nonprofit movie theater, El Rigby Theater. For movie related questions and comments email jalatonamoviereviews@gmail.com.

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