Onward: Another Feather in Pixar’s Cap

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).

The Necessity and Justification of Toy Story 4

My feelings about Disney and Pixar going back to the toy chest for a fourth time around were not dissimilar to Jesse’s. I recall the first time I read that Toy Story 4 was in production. I, too, was filled with disbelief. I, too, believed Toy Story 3 concluded the trilogy with perfection and grace. I, too, didn’t want to cry at another movie about animated inanimate objects.

Eventually I came around. I started to rally behind the idea because I realized that, while any sequel is really just a cash grab, I trust the team behind Toy Story. They earned the trust with the exquisite Toy Story 3. However when I tried sharing this opinion with my many friends that were NOT behind the sequel, I continually got shot down. People really didn’t want this movie to exist.

Which means, I couldn’t help but go into Toy Story 4 with the need of it justifying it’s existence. I needed the film to prove everyone wrong. I needed the film to come through for me like Woody came through for Andy time and time again. Like a kid I needed my toys. And like any good toy, they pulled through and made me feel like a kid again.

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How Did 20-Year Old Me Feel About Toy Story 3?

I’m going to be upfront and admit that I have some pretty big misgivings about Toy Story 4. Sure, on the one hand, Pixar has crafted three outstanding entries for its most popular franchise. On the other hand, Toy Story 3 wrapped up the trilogy beautifully and left the story on a high note. Sometimes, you have to know when to leave well enough alone.

But regardless of how much I am or am not looking forward to the continuation of the franchise, that doesn’t really matter. Toy Story 4 hits theaters on Friday and hopefully any worries I have will be put to rest by another worthy follow-up. That really would be the best case scenario here. While we’re waiting, I thought it would fun to revisit Toy Story 3 and analyze what worked so well for that movie. The twist is that it won’t be me providing the analysis, or at least not present day me.

Back in the days before we had a blog for publishing our film reviews on the internet, Kevin and I would share our opinions with each other on Facebook messenger. Let’s just say it was the beginning of a shared appreciation for filmmaking and the first step towards pursuing a mutual passion. One of the movies I reviewed back then was indeed Toy Story 3, which Kevin and I saw together in 2010.

It’s crazy to think that it’s been that long since the last Toy Story hit theaters. It’s even crazier to me that we’ve been writing about films for almost a decade. That’s why I thought it be worthwhile, and just a little terrifying, to publish my original review and let 20-year old Jesse have his day in the sun.

That’s what we have to do, right? Take some time to remember where we’ve been, and the truth is the Toy Story movies have always been part of my life. My original review is after the jump.

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