The creation of new stories especially from the talent at Pixar is an interesting evolving evolution. The new iterations of IP are the first per se of originals after the departure of John Lasseter. Even though his removal was warranted, and despite the presence of so many of the original creative people, there is a slight hole, however miniscule within the structure. “Onward” works well and bring in textures of mythology but within the context of a modern world. It is intrinsic but, despite the quest motif, almost seems smaller than one would expect. The story works well though maybe a slight more complicated that the usual Pixar but as always deals with some sort of loss that must be regained through the transformation and path of a character.
The story follows the texture of two brothers, one of which Ian (played by Tom Holland) is becoming a man. He lost his father before he ever knew him. Barley, his brother, (played by Chris Pratt) is a fun-loving almost D&D outsider who teases his brother but loves him in his way nonetheless. This is not our world. This is a magical world where winged horses fight over garbage like dogs and cats and homes are sometimes made of mushroom. But modernism has taken the place of magic…which of course is an apt metaphor. The brothers discover a spell that will bring their father back for one day but the initial try (because Ian hasn’t ever tried to use magic) makes it so that only the bottom half of their father is there. In order to restore them they have to find another crystal that goes in a wand to conjure up the other half. Only problem is that the resurrection spell for their father only lasts for a day.
The quest itself is fun but mostly bittersweet. Small gestures by the bottom half of the dad are so small but mean so much which is why Pixar has always been able to translate to multiple languages. Holland plays a variation on his characters that start off meek but find a small degree of confidence by the end. Pratt’s Barney seems much closer to him as a person, even with his van Guinevere, which is an ode to Pratt’s life in his early 20s when he lived in his van in Hawaii. Pratt seems to go off script a little which is great but it seems maybe the animators tried to bridge it at times.
The true magic of the quest and the connection is almost a circle as the film ends in an interesting conundrum of a loop which actually works quite well and is quite existential in a way that “Finding Nemo” was in a way. But the realization in the final moments is handled exceptionally and with poignancy that, despite any shenanigans with the brothers, comes out truly 3-dimensional and formed. “Onward” is a evolving perspective of Pixar in staying with its true mission of stories of redemption while still making it undeniably heartfelt and accessible.
By Tim Wassberg
The trepidation in doing a “Toy Story” sequel is why mess up or challenge a good thing. Money is usually the answer in these scenarios. “Toy Story 3” was such a fitting end with its undeniable odes to “Star Wars” lore and just essential drama that magnified and personified the essence of the journey of Woody & Buzz. “Toy Story 4” is a good movie through and through but one that didn’t necessarily need to be. Nonetheless, it works well all the same. This installment works more in all seriousness as an epilogue on existence of Woody. It is not about the kid’s room or the nursery anymore. It is set again the bigger world asking the question”Do I want more?” and “Who am I?” Wonderfully enough this theme tends to innately move the motivations of every single one of the characters here. By not having to give all the focus to each of the nursery toys, there almost seems to be broadening of character.
Annie Potts as Bo Peep definitely ups here game and the essence of a lost toy in the world does take on new meaning while essentially reflecting the mentality of a new age. The way she hangs and runs with Giggle McDimples just feels organic. Woody is struggling to catch up…which is part of the point of the exercise. The addition of Christina Hendricks as Gabby Gabby, a doll with a flaw in an antique store feels misdirected at first but then, especially with the help of her Henchmen (sort of like Howdy Doody on steroids) there is definitely a sense of darkness but in a way misplaced enlightenment. The fact that some of the ending music from “The Shining” plays at one point just was undeniably elating. The different elements of existentialism moving through the story including the Id, hubris and the inner voice are all incredibly deep despite it being able to play very simple on the surface.
Even the introduction of Forky, a toy made out of trash by their kid Bonnie, evolves from that aspect. He just wants to be trash until he realizes his need to be but his first question is “Why am I alive?” On retrospect thinking, it can be quite filtered and intense in what the movie is talking about. That is a question that Gabby comes to terms with. Even Duke Kaboom, a racing toy played by Keanu Reeves, has a similar existential crisis. Rumor was that Keanu pushed the writers to build his character out more. And while that might be true, Duke’s journey has the same path and texture of needing to be as the other main characters. He was thrown out by his kid because he didn’t do what the commercial said he would. The irony and paradox of that statement both as an actor and as a character is, in ways, profound. Not wanting to give away any of the spoilers, this progression serves all the characters even Buzz with his basic thinking.
Towards the end of the film however which was interesting, there was a buzzy moment that very few films get when it hits the right notes finding heart and connection without being schmaltzy…and it wasn’t even with the main character. That said, though there is an almost subtle texture of “Forrest Gump” in the final moments. Not the same perception but it just about got there. “Toy Story 4” didn’t need to be but in that that it is, it is welcome as it is both a crowd pleaser but also an existential epilogue on the nature of a toy that is Woody. And Key & Peele are pretty good in it too.
By Tim Wassberg