Did you know that Onward, the latest Pixar movie, comes out in two days? It doesn’t seem real to me that it’s releasing so soon, mostly because I genuinely forgot that it existed. It wasn’t until I looked at this week’s upcoming releases that I realized that, yes, Onward was still a movie with a set release date.
How could I have forgotten about Onward, the latest animated feature from animation legends Pixar? I mean, this is Pixar! Sure, you can easily accuse them of going back to the well repeatedly over the past several years with new installments in their Incredibles, Toy Story, and Cars franchises, all in the span of three years, but Onward is their first original feature in just as long. This is an entirely new, original property, something that I’ve been saying I’ve wanted for years, and yet I couldn’t care less about it releasing.
Is this because I think that Onward looks bad? Well, it doesn’t look great if I’m being perfectly honest, but it doesn’t look awful. Could it be due to this being the very first Pixar film not being helmed by former studio head John Lasseter? I mean, I never liked his style to begin with, so it can’t be that. Is it because it looks like its another distillation of classic Pixar tropes for the umpteenth time, with this time going so far as to be a literal road trip? Probably, but that isn’t why I’m so unimpressed by Onward.
At the end of the day, it feels like just another family movie. It doesn’t appear to have that Pixar charm. Worst of all, you could slap any animation studio’s name on it and I would believe that they made it rather than Pixar.
Now, I could be completely wrong on this. I am fully prepared, as always, to eat my own words if Onward turns out to be an animated masterpiece loved for generations to come. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been proven wrong. Call it a gut instinct, but there’s just something about Onward that isn’t lighting my world on fire or anyone else’s I talk to for that matter. The most that people will say about it is that it looks fine, but Pixar has never once been a studio that I feel is “fine.”
So fun little behind the scenes chat, peeking behind the curtains at the inner machinations of the Flixist offices. Usually, whenever we claim reviews, it’s a fight to the death over who covers what. If you’re slow on the draw when the monthly releases pop up, then you won’t get to review what you want to. Not only that, but we claim movies months in advance. So when you start seeing March reviews roll out, those were actually claimed at the beginning of February, with one notable exception being Onward. Oh, we’re still going to run a review on it (don’t ask me who, I can’t remember), but it was left unclaimed up until last week. For the majority of February, no one wanted to tackle Onward. To put that into perspective, just a few days ago the April releases were made public for us to fight over, and The New Mutants was swept up immediately. The New Mutants is a more desirable movie to watch than Onward and if that isn’t a sleight against Onward I don’t know what is.
It’s not that I think it looks like a bad movie, it’s that it doesn’t look like anything. After seeing the trailer multiple times, I never developed any feelings for it. My first reaction is to say that this feels like a retread of Shrek 2 thanks to the modern pop culture sensibilities, but that series was always aware that it was a satire of classic fairy tales and Disney tropes. The entire creation of Shrek as a series was meant to be a giant middle finger from Dreamworks head Jeffrey Katzenberg to Disney and their treatment of him and his ideas and you can identify its satirical nature easily. Onward doesn’t give me that impression in the slightest. It just uses the aesthetics to tell a story that appears oh so very boring.
At this point in time, I feel that Pixar’s distinction in the field of animation has been growing weaker and weaker as time goes by. They used to be a titan of quality with every release being revered as a childhood classic, yet nowadays people will view them as just another animation studio, albeit one that’s a part of Disney. Just because they’re Pixar they’re perceived as being this flawless company, but the apathy towards most of their output in the 2010’s shows that reputation can only get you so far when you’re under the control of the cultural monopoly that is Disney.
The appeal of Pixar has waned considerably since they were bought completely by Disney in 2006. At that time, Pixar was distinct enough from Disney because they were focusing so much on 3D animation while Disney was still pumping out 2D releases. Most of Pixar’s releases in the late 2000’s, like Wall-E and Up, were well into production by this point where the buyout barely affecting them, but most of their output from 2010 forward has just lacked that spark of creativity and ingenuity that the studio was once known for. Out of the 11 Pixar movies released in that decade, 7 of them were sequels to pre-established franchises with most of them garnering tepid reactions at best. Monsters University, Finding Dory, Cars 2, Car 3, and The Incredibles 2 all pale in comparison to their originals for much of the same reason; they had no real reason to exist. That sense of wonder vanished with most of that creativity being reaffirmed in the main canon of Disney animation features.
While Disney was making cinema defining classics like Frozen, and subversive marvels like Zootopia, Pixar was content to rehash its preexisting properties. Sure, they were financially successful, with several of them going on to become some of the highest grossing films, animated or otherwise, of all time. I’m also not denying the quality of some of their modern movies like Inside Out, but even their original movies don’t carry that same weight anymore, with The Good Dinosaur flopping hard despite being an original, if formulaic, experience and Brave garnering mixed reactions upon release. In a world where everyone is pumping out 3D animated films, what makes Pixar stand out anymore?
Instinctively, I would say the overall quality of their animation. They animate lint on clothes for Christ’s sake, but lint on clothes does not a good movie make. It’s impressive to see from a technical perspective, but when the movie is in motion that’s not going to matter much in the long run. Visually, if you were to compare Onward to animated movies that came out last year, it looks generic. Klaus, Promare, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, and Missing Link all are more visually interesting and compelling than what Onward is currently showing off.
I generally don’t look at reviews before going in to see a movie, but out of curiosity I decided to take a peek at Onward’s Metacritic score. As of right now, it has the third lowest Metacritic score out of every Pixar release, beating out only Cars 2 and Cars 3 at a 62 as of this post. While that isn’t a terrible score, it at least indicates that it’s weaker in comparison to every other release the studio has made, with seven of Pixar’s releases scoring in the 90s. When your only point of favor is that it’s better than the most recent Cars movies, which are universally regarded as being mediocre at best and bad at worst, that’s not really something to take pride in.
Gut reactions are something that I don’t generally like to have when I look at a movie. I try to go into each release with an open mind and be pleasantly surprised or crushingly disappointed, but sometimes I can just call them as I see them. Based on everything that I’ve seen related to Onward, with only two days left until it releases, I find myself barely mustering a sigh at the prospect of seeing it. This isn’t doom and gloom for Pixar, since I have hope about their upcoming release Soul, but definitely a low point for the company if my instincts turn out to be true.