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SYFY WIRE reviews

Onward reviews describe film as 'Frozen for boys,' even if it's not Pixar's best

By Josh Weiss
Onward Pixar

The first reviews for Pixar's Onward hath arrived, and just like any hero on an epic and fantasy-inspired quest worth its sword, the film (in theaters March 6) is currently fighting a metaphorical dragon in the form of good-to-mixed critic opinions.

While early Twitter reactions were pretty strong, and reviews are largely positive, they also aren't afraid to dig into the movie's biggest problem — which is that the screenplay by Dan Scanlon (the Monsters University vet also served as director), Jason Headley, and Keith Bunin prefers to evoke emotion, rather than flesh out ideas or move the story along.

That said, Onward is still getting props for its clever remix of D&D-esque tropes, characters, personas, and spells that have (like Netflix's Bright) brought the fantasy genre into the modern day. Tom Holland (Spies in Disguise) and Chris Pratt (The Lego Movie) are also receiving praise for their voice performances as Ian and Barley Lightfoot, a pair of elven brothers trying to bring back their late father with a 24-hour resurrection spell. The brotherly dynamic between the two is so genuine that The Guardian's Steve Rose decided to describe the film as  "Frozen for boys."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep) voices the boys' mother, Laurel Lightfoot, while Octavia Spencer (Ma) plays the Manticore, a once-great adventurer (now a restaurateur) who helps Ian and Barley on their voyage.

Take a break from your current campaign, stop in at a friendly inn for some mead, and see what critics have to say about Pixar's latest effort ...

"You won’t feel cheated by it, but you won’t feel elated, either. Yet Pixar, in its very bravura, has more than earned the right to put out a movie like this one — an unabashed piece of product, a kind of Pixar place-holder made with a tiny dash of soul." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety

"Not every entry can be an instant classic like WALL-E, but the majority of Pixar's films are special for one reason or another. Which makes the generic bro humor and familiar Dungeons & Dragons role-play vibe of Onward a let-down. The title's vague echo of the captivating Up is unfortunate." -David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"For male characters this is still relatively under-explored territory. Beneath the bro-friendly, fantasy-art trappings, Onward finds a little bit of that old Pixar magic. It could be a Frozen for boys – but don’t tell them that." -Steve Rose, The Guardian

"Onward is a good, but not great Pixar movie, with a heartfelt, if emotionally manipulative storyline, and plenty of film magic to propel it forward ... Onward does noticeably lean on tugging on heartstrings to make up for a thin plot." -Molly Freeman, ScreenRant

"Is this A-list Pixar? No, it’s several rungs below the Toy Story movies, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Inside Out. But it is one of the best of the rest, and that’s more than good enough." -Jamie Graham, GamesRadar

"Onward is the latest and strangest of these: a Pixar movie that doesn’t quite look like a Pixar movie, even though it almost feels like one. Perhaps part of the problem is that Onward is both incredibly strange and rather sweet, but it only half-commits to either feeling." -Joshua Rivera, The Verge

"Onward’s ups and downs suggest these probably are less magical times at Pixar. But that doesn’t mean with enough hard work or concentration — or maybe just following your gut — that the magic can’t come back, if only for a little while." -Matt Singer, ScreenCrush

"Dan Scanlon has crafted an adventure that gleefully flies high with its fantasy elements, yet never loses touch with its grounded family tale. In that regard, it feels like '80s Amblin, but without being a stodgy homage. It's got charm from its playful production design to its exuberant voice cast to some deeply silly visual gags." -Kristy Puchko, IGN