Tuesday, July 7, 2020

"Onward" - Disney animated film review

The Disney animated movie that I watched for the first time last week was "Onward".

From the first trailer that I saw of this movie, I had already decided I wasn't going to see it. It really turned me off. It wasn't until the third trailer that I saw that I didn't immediately think NO, and that was when they were actually telling the story of the movie, with the two brothers on their quest. But even that trailer and then finding out that Tom Holland played the younger brother didn't inspire me to see the film.

The prelude in the film gives the backstory that once upon a time, the world had magic, and it was cool. But it was hard, and not everyone could do it, and then technology and innovation allowed everyone to do the "magic" things without having to master magic, and so magic faded from the world.

If you read my review of "The Emperor's New Groove", you know that I had trouble getting past the first 5 minutes and only made it through because of this project. For this film, I made it to 10 minutes in before I wanted to bail. I did end up liking parts of this film more than I did "The Emperor's New Groove", but that's not just a low bar, it's a bar that's on the ground so not hard to get over.

Oh, here's one thing I liked - at one point when someone was driving around, I noticed that the normal STOP signs said HALT instead. That made me laugh.

So the story is that younger brother Ian is shy and unsure of himself, and his father died before he was born, so he never knew him. It's his 16th birthday, but he's too nervous to ask a group of kids to come to his party. He finally gets the courage to utter a convoluted invitation, which they happily accept, but then his older brother pulls up and the kids don't have a favorable reaction to him (older brother), so he (Ian) hastily withdraws the invitation with the excuse that the party is cancelled. Once Ian gets home, he pulls out a cassette tape (I guess they haven't gotten that far in the technology and innovation timeline.) and a cassette player and pops in a tape. As it plays, it sounds like a test tape that his dad made, trying it out for the first time. After playing it through once, he plays it again, this time adding his own dialogue at the right time so that it sounds like he and his dad are having a conversation. He's clearly listened to this enough times that he knows it all by heart, words and pauses both.

Older brother Barley is loud and brash and annoying as hell.

Because Ian is so down, their mom (Laurel) decides to bring out a present early (she had meant to do this later in the evening) and give a present from their dad that is actually meant for both brothers, once they're both at least 16. They unwrap a wizard's staff and a magic gem and realize that their dad was a wizard. There are instructions that, when the spell is cast, will bring their father back for 24 hours. Barley attempts the spell and nothing happens, disappointing them both, as well as their mother. After they leave his room, Ian absentmindedly starts reciting the spell and doesn't notice that the gem is glowing. He finally notices, and Barley comes in and sees what's happening, and as the spell proceeds, their father starts to materialize, from the shoes up. Ian is struggling to control the staff, and Barley jumps in to help him, but in doing so, it throws the spell awry.

Once everything settles, they discover that their dad has only materialized up to his waist. With no other way to communicate with him, Barley taps "shave and a haircut" on his dad's shoe, and his dad responds. This was something they used to do, so Barley in this way communicates to his dad that it's him, and his dad acknowledges him. Dad's feet then go searching for Ian's, which he finds.

So then there's this whole story where Barley is really into gaming quests which are based on real events, so Barley knows one game that is exactly like the quest they're on - they're in search of another magic gem so that they can materialize the rest of their dad. Their quest takes them to the Manticore's Tavern, run by Corey, who's a manticore, of course. The formerly fierce tavern has now been turned into a sort of Chuck E. Cheese, with a cute, fuzzy mascot of Corey. Barley is disheartened that she's now just a businesswoman and implores her to rediscover herself, when she was fierce and loved adventure. After Ian and Barley leave, Corey does just that and turns ferocious. Laurel has just arrived in search of her boys, and Corey says they're already on their way, but she forgot to tell them about the curse, so she and Laurel try to catch up with them. I was thinking at that point, she has wings, why can't she use them? And then later, Corey and Laurel have a conversation where Corey says that her wings don't work very well because she hasn't exercised those muscles much. OK, point taken.

Ian and Barley are in need of gas, and Barley comes up with the idea that Ian can make the gas can bigger and that will increase the amount of gas. And I'm thinking, how do you know it works that way, that they won't just end up with the same amount of gas in a giant gas can? And after this whole elaborate explanation to Ian that he {Ian} has to concentrate and not be distracted while he's (Ian's) casting the spell, Barley proceeds to break his concentration and distract him the whole time, throwing the spell off. Are you seeing a pattern?

So instead of making the can bigger, it turns out that Barley is made tiny. They have to continue their quest, and because Barley is too small to drive, Ian has to drive, even though he doesn't know how and is terrified to try again after messing up really badly in Driver's Training.

Other stuff happens, and then while trying to get out of another scrape, Barley ends up finding out that Ian thinks he (Barley) is a screw-up. Ian tries to deny it, but Barley doesn't believe him. I don't remember what happened next, but at some point, there's music, and their dad can feel the vibrations so starts dancing to the music. Dad wants them to join in so goes to get them one by one, but how does dad know where they were?

Then there was a giant cheese puff floaty thing. They eventually get to where they're going and make their way through a maze of things to conquer. It was kind of like what Indiana Jones had to do to get the idol, but instead of a giant rolling boulder, they had to escape from a giant gelatinous cube. Barley said that the gelatinous cube dissolved anything it touched, but I saw bits of stuff in it, so I guess it doesn't dissolve every little bit? I just kept thinking it was a Borg ship made of jello with fruit bits in it.

And after defeating all of the obstacles, they get to the light at the end of the tunnel and finally make it through - back to their own town, right near Ian's school. Ian is incensed that they've wasted so much time because the 24 hour time limit is closing quickly, so he goes off to spend what little time he has left with his dad. Barley is determined to find the gem and follows a hunch and ends up retrieving the gem from the nearby water fountain. But then the curse is triggered, and red smoke pours out from the top of the fountain and permeates the area, destroying and absorbing things, and it turns out that it is taking rocks and wood and metal in order to create a giant dragon pieced together from those bits. The friendly school mascot picture as its face was pretty funny.

A battle ensues (and Corey [who has rediscovered the use of her wings] and Laurel arrive, and Corey joins in the fight) and the staff ends up getting knocked out of Ian's hand, but he realizes that he still has a splinter in his hand, so he pulls that out, and it magically regenerates into another staff. I wasn't really keen on that save-the-day measure. He's had to climb rocks and all kinds of other things that involved using his hands, and there's still a big enough piece of intact splinter in his hand?

Ian is able to use the staff and gem to cast the spell again, and this time, the spell is completed, and the rest of their dad starts to materialize. But the dragon is hell-bent on destroying them all, and while Ian had really, really wanted to meet his dad, he tells Barley to go instead, while he (Ian) fights the dragon. Earlier, Barley had told Ian that when their father was dying and almost gone, he had the chance to see him one more time, but dad had tubes and other stuff all over and didn't look like himself anymore, and Barley was too afraid to see him, so he never said goodbye. Ian wants Barley to have the chance to say goodbye to their dad.

Ian manages to defeat the dragon, and he's able to watch the final minutes that his dad has, talking to Barley, and it ends with a hug before dad disappears. When Barley comes to Ian, he (Barley) gives him (Ian) a hug on their dad's behalf.

At the end of the movie, when they're driving off and lift into the air, the husband and I both said, "Where we're going, we don't need ... roads." Geeks.

Barley bugged the crap out of me. He was the main reason I disliked the film so much, because he was such a jerk and pretended to know everything. And when Ian kept saying that it was all his fault because he messed up the spells, I was yelling (mostly in my head but maybe some got out), "No, it's not. It's Barley's fault." He insisted on grabbing the staff when their dad was materializing, so it was his fault that only half came through. He kept talking and talking and talking to Ian and distracting him, which resulted in Barley getting shrunk, so again, his fault. I'll admit, the moment he had with his dad was really sweet (as was his passing along a hug from their dad to Ian), and I almost cried at that (both of those), but I would have felt it more if I'd had ANY positive feelings about Barley prior to that point. Mostly, I thought how nice it was of Ian to let Barley have that moment, which would hopefully be a healing for him (Barley), and maybe it'll make him less of a jerk (that part is my thinking, not Ian's).

I thought Ian's story arc was unremarkable. I wish they had structured the earlier part of the story differently, so that it was that there was this list of things he wanted to do, but he thinks he never got to do them because he didn't have a dad, but it turns out, Barley filled that role. Instead, he had a list of things he wanted to do WITH his dad, but doing them with Barley was enough? If he'd been looking for a dad the whole time and then realized that Barley was there all along, I would have bought it more. Also, with the "flashbacks" to the things that Barley did for him when they were younger, we're supposed to all of a sudden see what a great brother Barley has been? A minute or two of flashbacks that I didn't see happen, per se, is not going to change my opinion that quickly. I would like them to have mentioned maybe one or two of them during their adventures, so we would have known that Barley hasn't been a jerk with Ian his whole life.

I thought Tom Holland was fine as Ian, but other than playing Spider-man, I really want him to not play "nervous, unsure teenage boy" anymore. I want to see something else from him. Even though it wasn't a big part, I liked him in "The Current War". More of that kind of stuff, please. I know, he still has a very young face, but that didn't distract from his serious role in "The Current War".

I liked Corey, moreso after I found out that she was voiced by Octavia Spencer. She does fantastic work in everything I've seen her in (I recommend "Gifted" and "Ma", yes, very different films from each other and this film, but she's fantastic, and both are films that I don't think got enough attention.), but I like Manticore Corey better than Tavern Corey. I don't plan to see this film again, but if I'm ever in a position where it happens, I'll be paying more attention to Corey.

I think part of my disinterest in this film (other than being constantly irritated by Barley) is that the fantasy genre has never been my thing. I like some stories in the fantasy realm, but I wouldn't choose it.

There were some parts of this film that reminded me a bit of "Wall-E". Automation had turned everyone lethargic so that they were all lazy and overweight and spent all their time in chairs that moved them around. In this film, technology and innovation had similarly made some of them forget themselves, with Laurel's minotaur boyfriend driving instead of running, and Corey not having used her wings in a long time, and magic had been neglected.

So this is the last film on my list for this project. Other than "Mulan" (which will be crossed off the list at some point after I've seen the new live-action version, whenever that is), I've seen all the Disney animated films I hadn't seen previously. Well, all the Disney animated films I hadn't seen previously that I was willing o watch. I haven't seen "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh", "The Rescuers Down Under", "A Goofy Movie", "James and the Giant Peach", "The Tigger Movie" and "Dinosaur". I'm not counting them on my list. Why? Because it's my project, so I get to make the non-existent rules.

Speaking of unseen Disney animated movies, I want to mention three movies that I don't think got nearly the attention and love they should have, either when they were released or any time discussions of animated Disney movies arise. If you haven't seen them, I would highly recommend them.

1. "Meet the Robinsons" - I just wrote a short sentence to describe this movie and realized it's kind of a spoiler. Anyway, I do think it's a terrific movie with good things to say to kids and adults alike, and it also contains one of my favorite Disney animated characters.

2. "Bolt" - It's a lot of fun, and Bolt (who's a dog) is really cute, and you get to meet his friends Mittens (a cute cat) and Rhino (a funny hamster). Some of the characters are voiced by people I'm not fond of but they're good in this movie.

3. "Chicken Little" - Yes, it's that story, but with a twist, of course. I loved this movie. I thought it was so much fun. And Chicken Little is cute!

I haven't quite decided what I'm doing next, if anything. Thanks for coming along on this journey. I hope you've enjoyed it.

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