After graduating from college in 1998, Dan Scanlon quickly rose through the ranks of Disney animation, eventually working for Pixar. He started off working on the direct-to-video sequels to Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, 101 Dalmatians, and Tarzan amongst others. After being hired by Pixar in 2001, he was a story artist for Cars and Toy Story 3. Later on, he moved up to being part of the senior creative team on Brave and Inside Out. Then in 2013, he directed his first feature-length animated film, Monsters University, a prequel to 2001's Monsters Inc. The film went on to be a massive commercial hit, though critical reception was mixed, to say the least. Following its success, Scanlon decided his next project would be more personal, inspired by losing his father as a child. That project soon culminated in his second directing effort, the 2020 animated fantasy film Onward.
Once upon a time, the land was inhabited by mythical creatures who could wield magic and go on exciting adventures. However, as new technological advancements were being made, magic started to fade and all the mythical creatures lived normal lives. We soon meet the Lightfoots, including Ian (Tom Holland), his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt), and mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). For Ian's 16th birthday, their mother gives him a present left behind by their late father: a staff and gem. Turns out he left behind instructions for a spell that would allow him to see them for one day. Unfortunately, the spell goes wrong, and Ian only brings back their dad's legs, in the process destroying the gem. So, Barley decides to take Ian on a quest to find another gem to hopefully restore their dad before sunrise. It's an adventure involving pixies, centaurs, and The Manticore (Octavia Spencer).
Since childhood, I've been a huge fan of Pixar, and they've delivered high-quality content, for the most part. For every lackluster A Bug's Life, Cars, and Monsters University, we get animated classics like The Incredibles, Wall-E, and Up. Compared to their other works, Onward lies somewhere in the middle: not one of their best nor worst either. Given that it's Pixar, the animation is spectacular as always, from the well-designed characters to the imaginative environments. Speaking of characters, the voice work is very well-done, especially from Holland and Pratt, who have great chemistry together. Julia Louie-Dreyfus is fun as the nervous but cool mom, and Octavia Spencer steals the show as The Manticore. Mel Rodriguez is also fun as Officer Colt Bronco, a centaur cop who tries to be a good stepdad. Plus, the story moves at a solid pace and never feels like it's dragging along.
While this film marginally better than Scanlon's last film, Onward is not without its problems, though it's still enjoyable. Firstly, they talk a lot about how great the father was when he was alive, but we're never shown it. Also, the fact that the father is mostly just legs makes it hard to feel an emotional connection. Granted, Onward seems more focused on the relationship between the two brothers than necessarily on seeing their dad. Also, most of the film goes through the typical buddy movie tropes with not much of anything exciting happening. Luckily, the film picks up quite a bit in the third act, and you're still rooting for the brothers. While this is far from being one of Pixar's best, it's still a worthwhile watch for kids and adults alike. Overall, Onward is an enjoyable buddy movie about two brothers coming together on an epic quest.