REVIEW: ‘Onward’ is a refreshing original from Pixar, but not without its issues

(Abigail Compton | Collegian Media Group)

Pixar Studios takes on dependency on technology and the rise of anxiety in their new movie “Onward.”

In a time where there is “excessive use of smartphone paired with negative attitude and feeling of anxiety and dependency on gadgets may increase the risk of anxiety and depression” according to the EXCLI Journal, a story about reconnecting lost magic feels relevant. This feels especially relevant to Pixar Studios, who has been feeling the effects of multiple lack luster films and faded excitement from sequels of classics.

“Onward” follows the story of Ian Lightfoot, a young teenage elf who lacks self-confidence, getting a unique chance to reconnect with the father he never got to meet through magic. The story takes place in the magical equivalent of our modern world and shows the viewer how, over time, the unique magical creatures have adjusted to the comforts of technology.

On Ian’s 16th birthday, he receives a magical staff with instructions from his father to bring him back to life for 24 hours. The spell goes awry and only the bottom half of his dad comes back, thus sending Ian and his brother Barley on a quest to complete the spell.

Director Dan Scanlon was inspired by his own experiences: Scanlon and his brother also lost their father when they were very young and have no memories with him. This personal story felt like it had the potential to connect with a broader audience, so Scanlon imagined what it might be like to magically connect to his father.

It is this personal connection that I feel works best in this film, allowing the viewer to really sympathize with the Lightfoot family. There is a very real emotional toll that becomes a unique story telling device.

The movie feels refreshing after a parade of Disney and Pixar stories that are sequels or retellings of the stories we know. I was excited to learn new characters and a new world I haven’t been to before in the Pixar universe.

Although I was excited to get into an original, this movie did not have the same shine that classic Pixar movies once had. I enjoyed the premise and the main family, but the world felt very flat for what we have become used to from Pixar.

There was something very generic about the fantasy landscape, and through the film it felt like the characters become more generic and over the top. There was magic missing in the details of this movie: I felt like I had already seen the world that they built.

Even though the world they built wasn’t the usual unique perspective I’ve come to expect from Pixar, the soundtrack was a nice surprise from this film. The tone and styling of the sounds felt perfectly made for the two main characters adventuring through the land. I especially enjoyed the sound differences that contrasted the brothers from one another.

Onward isn’t without its issues, but this film is worth watching. Even a less-than-stellar Pixar film has broad appeal to any age viewer. The message worked for me, and there where very authentic moments in there for your classic emotional Pixar viewing. This film makes me hopeful for a return of the Pixar original that we might see rise to the heights in “Soul” coming later this year. This movie is worth your time, it only suffers from the phenomenal lineup of Pixar behind it.

Abigail Compton is a senior in fine arts and multimedia editor for the Collegian. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to