PG for scary stuff, I guess? I mean, the guys fight a dragon. There's a lot of other things that could kill them, but that's pretty mild I suppose. I feel like every Disney movie has some degree of peril at this point, so PG should be for all Disney movies. I can't even think of anything that has innuendo. I would like to say that the PG surprises me, but it doesn't. But I also can't think of a straight up G rated movie at this point for 2020.
DIRECTOR: Dan Scanlon
God bless Disney+. I felt like I had to be super manipulative to get it when it was first announced. We're one of those folks who are paying $4.00 a month for three years. Then Quarantine happened and we decided to watch basically everything Disney+ available. I was wondering how Disney was going to handle Onward. I kind of feel bad for Disney. I know. I really shouldn't. Disney will be fine. (I really hope they don't lay people off because if any company can survive Covid-19, it's Disney.) But releasing this On Demand almost immediately and then porting it over to Disney+ really quickly was the coolest move that they could have made.
My goodness, I am a sucker for a dead dad movie. Like, I'm sorry if a bunch of other people weren't instantly weeping profusely when they watched this movie. I didn't cry, guys. But I got pretty choked up in this movie really early. There's something about an absent father that is central to the masculine persona. That's a broad generalization, but I'm using my own personal anecdotal evidence as proof. Which is a logical fallacy that probably negates everything I'm about to say after that. So much of my life has been devoted to who my dad was. While age wise, I relate to Barley, I identify with Ian. Perhaps this isn't a movie for everyone, which is totally a valid criticism. But for a specific group of people, Onward might be one of the most "Oh my goodness, this!" movies I've seen in in a while.
I have to go into spoilers because my reflection on this movie is so fundamentally attached to the ending of this film. I don't really have siblings. I have some step-siblings that I gained as an adult, so I don't know if I can necessarily relate to everything in the film. But it is an interesting tale. There is the fantasy that you get one more day with a lost relative. That's a pretty on the nose one. But there are moments where I wonder if the memory I have of my father is the reality of the situation. Barley is characterized as this character who lives in this world of fantasy, playing the equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons throughout the film whenever he can. He lives in a van (I wrote a poem ab out a similar van once) that is representative of manchild escapism. He's constantly criticized for living outside of reality. However, it is Ian who is really the one who doesn't deal with the present. Ian dresses normally, seems to like traditional things. But Ian also is the one who doesn't really have any friends. He wears his father's hoodie because he likes to imagine that who his father was. That conversation that he has with the pre-recorded audio is heartbreaking because it is both relatable and completely disingenuous. His father seems to honestly be a really great dude...based on his legs. But that relationship that he has with his dad isn't the truth.
Onward isn't the first story to address the concept that it isn't the destination, but the journey that matters. Perhaps there's an element that we saw in The Force Awakens where the protagonist learns just a bit too quickly about the nature of magic. But the exploration of magic is a wonderful metaphor for what is happening with Ian and Barley. Ian is so obsessed with being closer to his dead father. He does everything that he thinks is closer to his father and everything that is distant from Barley. Barley represents everything that his father isn't. Barley, from everyone's perspective, is a burnout that really doesn't deserve respect. However, Barley becomes vital to the quest. If the protagonist is obsessed with becoming closer to his father, it's this ironic twist that makes Barley the means to achieving that goal. Ian has to lower his guard and remove his misconceptions about what it means to be his father's son.
But there's this wealth of evidence that his father was Barley. He has created this myth that his father was one thing. But Barley kinda sorta remembers his father. Perhaps it is a stretch that Barley is his father. After all, I'm not exactly what I think my dad was, but I have elements of that. The quest to gain magic, despite being wildly practical and necessary for this quest, is what gives Ian an understanding of who his father really was. He wasn't this one thing that he sees in home videos. He's a complex guy and part of that is what Barley is. Barley's quest is the one that is straight up verbalized as the theme throughout the story.
Barley actually needs his father more. As a guy who thinks that he has come into his own and developed his own identity, is really a concentrated version of his father. The rules for Ian also apply to Barley. Rather than being his own person, Barley has instead created almost an impression of who his father was. This is all probably subconscious. But Barley's extroverted nature reads as overcompensation for someone who is incredibly isolated. Rather than actually being vulnerable for the majority of the film (after all, the story is about an attempt to have one more day with a dead father), Barley can't separate himself from the narrative he has created in his head. Everything has to be emotionally distant and closed off because that's who Barley is. A lot of that comes from the fact that he's had to act as Ian's surrogate father, despite the idea that he never really thought about it that way. When he confronts his father, this was a bonus for him. It's one day not for Barley alone, but for his father to see who his child grew up into. It's odd.
There is one thought that kind of irks me. The entire quest is technically a quest with Ian, Barley, and Dad. Dad is there for the entire film and it never really feels like that. There are moments, I suppose. But there is a weird accidental metaphor of what it must be like to have a parent with shut in syndrome or something because Dad is more of a punchline than a relatable character throughout the film. Ian considers his entire quest kind of a failure that he has to redefine by the end of the film because he never really had a chance to discover who his dad is. It's an odd bummer on what it must mean to have a soul and nothing you can really do with it. Dad's such a liability throughout the piece that I wonder if Ian got anything from just hanging out with Dad's legs.
From an evaluative angle, Onward, weirdly enough, is the least funny Pixar movie I've seen. It's not from lack of trying, but very little made me actually guffaw. It's tonally wonderful and it's a great story, so I really don't care. But usually Pixar nails the funny. That doesn't really happen here. It's a couple of chuckles and a heartwarming tale. I'm not going to talk anyone out of seeing this one, but kind of prep for the fact that it isn't like a Toy Story entry with the jokes. That's even weirder because it seems like the very premise allows for great jokes.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.