Perhaps impatient, as we all are, for the next renaissance or breakthrough for the Pixar/Disney animation studio, commentators are a bit overexcited about this new film. Onward is actually decent entertainment with some sweet moments, although its real novelty may well be the fleeting revelation that one character is gay (a traffic cop called Specter, voiced by Lena Waithe, who talks about her girlfriend’s daughter).
The setting is an alternative-reality anytown America where magic exists, along with various fabular creatures, but all of it has long since been superseded by the efficient and ubiquitous magic of technology. Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) are teenage elves whose dad died when they were young, now being raised by their mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). On Ian’s 16th birthday, Laurel gives him a present that his late dad had entrusted to her – a wizard’s staff that endows Ian with magical powers which could bring his dad back to life. But a chaotic accident means that they lose the mystic jewel that goes on the top of the staff, and the brothers have to go on a standard-issue supernatural adventure quest to get it back.
There’s a fair bit of wit and fun, and some tender moments, although the attitude towards death isn’t nearly as radically powerful as it was in the 2017 Pixar/Disney classic Coco. And, ungracious as it might be to point out, Onward’s simple debt to Harry Potter is a bit obvious sometimes. Still, it is a likable family comedy that finds an easy rhythm without effort.
• Onward is released in the UK and US on 6 March and in Australia on 2 April.