Two Cents Film Club Journeys ONWARD

With special guest Cash Harlan (Age 11)

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

We’re experiencing a very strange and surreal period of history, and there’s no telling how many changes we’re going to have to experience as a result.

For us movie lovers, one of the most striking changes is the sudden loss of movie theaters, which until now have served as our homes away from home, our temples, our sanctuaries and safe places. The fate of theatrical exhibition seems very much up in the air, and we can only hope that on the other side of this moment that movie theaters will be there waiting for us.

In the meantime, studios have been rushing projects meant for the big screen onto the small one in the hopes of recouping something for these big expensive productions that have been left orphaned.

Pixar’s Onward had the severe misfortune of having its world premiere right as the international panic was peaking, and unfortunately there wasn’t much of an audience ready to run to the theaters under the circumstances. Disney quickly rushed the movie onto their Disney+ streaming service, and it has quickly found receptive viewers among the many millions stuck at home without schools or offices to go to.

Directed by Dan Scanlon (Monster University), Onward is set in a magical world where modern convenience has done away with the wizards and quests of old. But elf brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) Lightfoot have to relearn the magic ways of old in order to complete a spell that will bring their father back to life for one day.

So much of the conversation around Onward has been tied into the poor circumstances of its release, but let’s look at the film as a film and decide where it fits in the larger Pixar ranking.

Next Week’s Pick

We’ve got quarantine on the brain. Still, things could definitely be worse.

We could be stuck in 1997.

Escape from New York is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Cash Harlan: (Age 11)

I like Onward a lot because it’s an awesome movie. In Onward, my favorite character is the older brother, Barley. I love his van most. I also love how the story is all about magic and family. Onward is awesome and everyone should watch it. (Cash Harlan)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

Before seeing Onward, I had read several reviews noting it among Pixar’s worst films. After the first time I watched it (in theaters just before everything was shut down for the current pandemic), I immediately disagreed tremendously with this assessment. It’s full of wonder, adventure, and love — all of the primary things that make my favorite Pixar films tick.

A second watch when it dropped for purchase and a third on Disney + solidified that it’s not only NOT one of Pixar’s worst, but one of their best. Up there with Inside Out, The Incredibles, and Coco, it’s the type of unique Pixar work that makes the studio truly stand out for me. While I still watch a decent amount of children/family movies and TV, it’s not nearly as much as it was a few years ago. In fact, it’s far easier for me to avoid things I don’t want to see than it was when my kids were younger. Nonetheless, you’ll never find me trying to weasel out of bringing them to see a Pixar film and Onward is a great example of why. (@thepaintedman)

Brendan Foley:

In a weird way, the things that probably mark Onward as being ‘lesser’ or mid-tier Pixar for the critical set are the very things I like best about it. Yes, it is shaggy in a way that films from that studio often are not, miles removed from the tight-as-a-snare-drum narrative economy of something like the Toy Story films, which unfold with a clockwork precision. But if I’m being honest, while I admire that level of craft and care, I’ve also begun to find it slightly tiresome and mechanical the more of these Pixar does. Coco, for example, is a good movie that drove me slightly crazy with how overly-considered every single line of dialogue in it is.

Onward is sloppier than some of the studios’ more acclaimed works, but (like Ratatouille) that sloppy, over-stuffed nature makes it feel more lively and deeply felt than if it was neatly checking off bullet points en route to crushing emotional catharsis. And where it really counts, in the emotional arc between the brothers, Onward is as locked in and beautifully considered as anything this studio has ever put out. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Like nearly every Pixar film, Onward debuted with a trailer that made it look kind of lame, and like nearly every one of those, the movie turned out to be terrific.

The spot-on casting of Tom Holland as the nebbish protagonist and Chris Pratt as his gung-ho, lovingly overbearing older brother helps solidify a story of adventure and magic that manages to be surprising, even when you’re pretty sure where it’s headed.

Pixar is a studio with a pretty specific identity, and at a glance Onward seems to blur the lines between that carefully cultivated image and the work of other less prestigious studios, even mainline Disney (where Zootopia, for example, treads a similar style). But its themes of love and loss are what put it of an accord with its studio peers, and the incredible finale takes all the film’s various narrative setups and beautifully brings it all home. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick:

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