Movie Review: Onward

Watching this movie happened as a bit of a fluke. Youngest kiddo needed something to watch in the evening after a busy day and we’d worn out our usual favorites. We’d seen the trailer and it looked interesting, but wasn’t something we were going to make a special effort to see.

That was before the lock down and the world was our very large oyster. It took a few weeks to reach the attitude of “heck, why not?” when it came to watching pretty much anything. And, it was on a streaming service we already had. Win.

The story

In New Mushroomia, magic and mythical creatures are a part of history. The world was full of elves, centaurs, pixies, and manticores and their magic was the force that made things work. Everything from transportation to interior lighting was taken care of using spells and unicorns.

Then technology happened – and it was easier, faster, and every one could use it. Fast forward a few generations in New Mushroomia and magic is nothing more than a part of history. People keep small dragons as pets and drive mini vans.

Ian Lightfoot is a teenage elf trying to make it through high school in one piece and survive his driving test. He’s shy, has a hard time talking to people, and would much prefer if he never had to leave his house ever again. He also has a wild older brother who lives and breathes fantasy role playing games.

On Ian’s sixteenth birthday he and his brother are given a gift from their deceased father, a real wizard’s staff with a single spell, the power to bring their father back for a single day.

But, this is a movie and something has to go wrong. In the process of attempting the spell the boys only bring half their father back – his now very alive pants. They set out on a quest to finish the spell before it wears off.

The rest of the movie turns into a fantasy twist reminiscent of Indiana Jones where the boys hunt down clues in unlikely places and test their courage. Are they successful? That would be an awful spoiler and I won’t tell you. But – I will say that it has a satisfying ending.

My review

Onward is urban fantasy at its most entertaining. It’s relatable, down to earth, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a real problem for the boys to solve that’s incredibly important to them, but isn’t so big that it feels forced. They’re not saving the world. They just want one more day with their dad.

After everything, I ended up liking it more than I expected to. My biggest worry going in was that there wouldn’t be enough relatable material. Not a problem, we’ve all been teenagers and had to navigate that world. Add to that sibling issues, trying not to get in trouble with mom, and then layer on top of it a chance to see a dear parent who died too soon, if only for a day.

Yep. It hit all the feels. Not only was there action and adventure, there were also sweet moments of reflection and introspection. There were emotional highs and plenty of laughs as well as moments of loss and sacrifice.

I’ll admit, I cried at the end.

Recommendations

This is a solid family film that I think anyone would enjoy, although those who like any form of fantasy would especially like it. There is enough action and laughs that even very young kids will find lots to entertain them, although the climax scene might be too intense for some.

Because the boys quest is wrapped around being able to see their father one more time, I’d counsel anyone who’s recently lost a parent to proceed with caution. While I feel the film redeems itself, it might be too much to take.

I give Onward 4.5/5 stars


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Watching the Extended LOTR with Kids – all Twelve Hours

Being stuck at home has very few perks, being able to watch the entire extended Lord of the Rings movies with the whole family ended up being one of them. My kiddos hadn’t seen any of them before. Until recently the youngest was too young to understand or be okay with the action scenes. It might have been desperation talking, but we deemed it the perfect time to add a whole new universe to their ever growing list of sci-fi/fantasy experiences.

Normally when we suggest doing a family movie night, the suggestion is met with a mixed bag of whining and gnashing of teeth. One of the three will be cool with it and the other two, depending on how teenagery they feel about the whole thing, will try to respectfully (or not so respectfully, depending on how the current Fortnight match is going) decline.

This time ALL THREE wanted to watch, and not just the first movie, or the first part of the first movie. No, they all wanted to watch all three movies. That’s a whopping 12 hours of family togetherness. Win.

I’m not sure if it was stir crazies caused by day after day of being stuck at home with a dwindling list of things that sound remotely interesting to do, or if Lord of the Rings holds some mystical appeal that attracts our nerdiness like a magnet, but I’m grateful. For eight nights over the course of two weeks, we snuggled up on the couches, popped popcorn, and watched the epic unfold.

For a movie that’s turning twenty in 2021, the story and the cinematography has stood the test of time remarkably well. It was amazing when it came out, it’s amazing now.

As a lifelong fantasy fan, having my kids enjoy something that I love is a dream come true. We played spot the Peter Jackson and discussed Andy Serkis’s evolution from minor role, to major character. We cheered the good guys winning and hid under blankets when Shelob crawled out of her spidery hole. We all cringed when Aragorn starts singing and hooted when he and Arwen smooched on screen. There might have even been a few tears shed as Eowyn witnesses the dying breath of King Theodred.

While I can’t plan on this amount of sheer movie attractiveness ever happening again, I can rest assured that hubby and I have done our part in teaching the kiddos their geek legacy.

Favorite moments from the films include Gandalf smacking his head inside Bilbo’s home at Bag End, Gandalf decking a throughly panicked Denethor with his staff, watching my 8-year-old crouch on the end of the couch just like Gollum, and Samwise carrying Frodo up the mountain.

Next on the list: The extended Hobbit movies. We’ve got a whole box of microwave popcorn and apparently endless opportunities for family togetherness – let’s do this thing!

What are you all watching with your families? I’d love to hear about it!


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Breathing New Life into The Little Prince

There is a tiny book that has made a lot of impact in my life and that is The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Back in what seems like forever ago, also known as 2015, Netflix took on the extraordinary challenge to create a feature length film of the book. At first, I was sincerely worried. Would they be able to capture the same light-hearted innocence? Would they hint at the deeper life lessons hidden inside?

Turns out they did, and they did a stunning job of it. The movie makes me cry every time I watch it. It’s one of the few movies that even knowing that I’ll cry, that I still will watch regularly. I’ve seen it *gasp* more than Titanic. Hard to believe, but true.

The book all by itself is full of wonderful flights of the imagination and comes packaged in a lovely narrative frame using an older narrator, the Aviator to guide us through the pages. Taking inspiration from that literary framing, the movie took the idea one step further by framing it again from the perspective of a little girl who gets told the story when she needed it most.

It was a risk that I feel payed off. Not only did it give the watcher the opportunity to see the story through the eyes of a child, but it showed how that child changed. This little girl is the opposite of both the aviator and the Little Prince. Daughter of a hard working accountant, she was given no room for creativity in her life. She is destined to go to the prestigious Wentworth Academy and to do so must spend each waking minute hard at work studying and writing papers.

To emphasize the difference between the girls life and that of the story of the Little Prince, her scenes are rendered in clean computer animation which feels symbolic of the clean orderly straightforward life she is living in. The only break from the orderliness is the home of her neighbor, a raggity collection of angles and ideas that have all hunkered together into a modpodged whole.

When we watch the Little Prince scenes, they are created in breathtaking stop motion – all done with gorgeous paper crafting. It is as if the story itself has risen from the scraps of paper and colored pencil in which the Aviator has written it. If you still haven’t made up your mind to watch this movie, do it just to see how pretty it all is. You won’t regret it. It is truly art in motion.

The girl needs someone to show her what it means to be a child. If you recall, one of the biggest complaints that the character of the Aviator makes is that adults forget everything important when they grow up. They forget how to play and have fun and start believing all life is is work and being paid and in turn paying bills.

The story of the Little Prince is revealed to us one piece as a time as it is shared by the girl’s eccentric neighbor, a quirky elderly gentleman who once was the Aviator. He’s childlike in his fascinations with color and story and is always working on something wild and wonderful. It is him, not the story that get’s the little girl to finally pay attention to why wonder and play is so important.

Some would argue that they took a few too many liberties when it came to the movie’s ending. At the beginning, I was one of them. Instead of ending the story with the end of the book, they extended the story and showed what happened to the Little Prince when he became and adult and forgot everything important. It takes a journey of the girl to save him and remind him of what was truly important, his planet, asteroid B612 and his rose.

By saving him, the girl in turn saves herself from growing up too fast. She proves that she can enjoy the best of both worlds and be responsible as well as fun loving. She even shows her mother, who has the best of intentions but not perhaps the best tools, how to enjoy the little things.

In the end, the 2015 Netflix production of the Little Prince is both charming and profound, It’s a wonderful reminder of the things that are truly important.


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