When you think of Pixar, you imagine a crowd pleasing formula: likable heroes, relatable plights and accessible humor for the whole family. You also imagine success. Years and years of success.
And to be fair, most of that is well-deserved. Pixar is the standard bearer of quality animation in film and every time you think they can’t possibly top themselves again, they set the bar just a little bit higher. But with that success also comes the added benefit of a box office safety net. The lesser Pixar entries often perform far better than they should and are typically bulletproof from too much criticism.
Which brings us to Onward. Two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, embark on a magical quest with their deceased father’s legs to complete a spell that will bring his whole body back for one day. If that was weird to read, trust me that it felt weird to type and it all makes for a zany tale of medieval creatures living their lives in the modern world. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are likable actors who fit their characters like a glove and there lies a certain sort of charm about embracing magic and the fantastical over our convenient technology.
All of this is to say that I rather enjoyed Onward. I’d definitely watch it again and will probably buy it at some point, despite the fact that it is sure to be available on Disney+ the second it ends its run in theaters. I just don’t know that it lives up to the Pixar standard so much as it benefits from being made by Pixar. Maybe I’m not making much sense here, so lets try a comparison.
Kubo and the Two Strings was one of the more groundbreaking animated films I’ve seen in the past five years. It featured a stellar voice cast, LAIKA’s unique style and some neat twists that I didn’t see coming. Yet in two weeks, Onward has already surpassed Kubo’s total earnings at the box office and has a higher audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Is there another reason why that’s the case beyond the simple fact that Pixar made one but not the other?
To be fair, this is more of a commentary on how people are more likely to trust their hard earned cash to an established brand than take a risk on something unfamiliar. We recently ran a piece here about going to the movies and why audiences are more inclined to stay at home and catch something on Netflix. Pixar, and really Disney as a whole, is one of the few studios immune to the convenience of streaming. The irony of it all is that I’m the one who wrote this, but yet I didn’t think twice about paying to see Onward in the theater.
I have no idea how well my point came across here. I’m a fan of this movie. I guess I just wish that every film that deserved it received guaranteed success.
(For the record, Onward‘s $45 million opening weekend is considered low for the studio. That’s still almost as much as Kubo earned in total in North America).