‘Onward’ Is the Latest Pixar Tearjerker About Family and Loss

Just like 'Coco' and 'Up,' the latest film from the acclaimed animation studio mixes laughs and tears.

Even though it seems like Disney has been focused on sequels and live-action remakes as of late, they have proven that they are still able to bring tears to viewers’ eyes when the time calls for it.

This is especially true when it comes to the projects they create with their longtime subsidiary, Pixar Animation Studios, who have been responsible for coming out with fan favorites such as 2009’s “Up,” 2017’s “Coco” and the “Toy Story” franchise. Their most recent movie, “Onward,” is no exception to this, as it has managed to be original as well as heartwarming.

Onward” tells the story of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Marvel Cinematic Universe actors Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), that are on a quest to reunite with their late father. But this is no ordinary adventure with the typical obstacles one can expect to find in the fantasy genre.

While, yes, there are still familiar elements, such as mythological creatures and quest-themed perils, they are all set in a world where most, if not all, magic is gone and needs to be revived once more. And although it still has some time before it is ranked with the rest of Pixar’s best work, the film has managed to produce effective results with the studio’s patented formula that makes their creations as funny as they are heartfelt.

The movie is as emotional as it is imaginative. It does an excellent job in being a part of Pixar’s tradition of blending tear-inducing moments with original animation. Each tear the viewers shed is earned through the actions of the protagonists as well as their losses, gains and character development.

No matter the story, Pixar resonates with audiences because of the studio’s willingness to explore complex emotions that come with the impact of death. This does not always have to mean literal death necessarily, but also with figurative death, such as the end of childhood and parenthood and saying goodbye.

And even though this seems like heavy subject matter to present in projects that are aimed at children, Pixar always manages to show a way to move on and look forward to the future in the way they brilliantly balance tragedy with hope and determination.

As stated before, Pixar has had a knack for coming up with beautifully animated features that contain emotional storytelling. “Up” is a great example of this, simply with the way it is able to tell a heartbreaking love story with little dialogue within the first 10 minutes of the film. There is also “Coco,” which had plenty to say about coping with the death of loved ones by presenting characters — both alive and dead — celebrating the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and showing the importance of remembering loved ones.

Then there are the “Toy Story” films, which seem to always have at least one scene that will tug at the heartstrings because of how they showcase the way certain friendships, memories and cherished belongings can slowly but surely be lost if one does not hold onto them strongly enough. “Onward” can now be added to this list as it takes the audience on the same kind of emotional quest as these two elf brothers discover the true meaning of family.

“Onward” is an emotional rollercoaster that will for sure leave audiences in tears with its unique portrayals of familial bonds and the struggle of losing a loved one. These are themes that Disney has touched upon in the past, but all in a variety of ways. “Onward” is no exception to this, except for maybe the more personal content it brings due to director Dan Scanlon’s inspiration for the movie.

Not unlike the characters of Ian and Barley, Scanlon and his brother lost their own father at a very early age. This motivated him enough to write the story for the film, especially after hearing an audio clip of his father. Like the teenage protagonists, the director had often wondered what it would be like to be with him again — adding an extra gut punch to this film.

“Onward” is a Disney movie one can expect to find in a list of those that will reduce a person to a puddle of tears. It can be seen as one of Pixar’s best films because of the way its comedic elements come with the purpose of mixing in with the metaphorical and literal action.

And like other Pixar movies, some of its best features are its world- and character-building elements that illuminate issues such as death, separation and other aspects of life like growing up, feeling empty and facing changes that come with overcoming fears.

So if moviegoers wish to add another film to their catalogue of ones worthy of a good cry, they should look no further than this recent creation by Disney and Pixar. Whether or not you’re a longtime fan of Disney, you will consider this an instant classic that still has a message to send out among all the laughs and visuals. Because although the premise may sound a little silly on the surface, it still delivers a creative story about loss and growing from it as you do your best to keep moving forward.

S. T. Perez, Texas A&M University, San Antonio

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S.T. Perez

Texas A&M University – San Antonio
English With Concentration on Teacher Certification

I enjoy music, old movies, and am trying to read some of the classics while finishing school. Writing has always been my passion; I will do what I can to let my ideas be known!

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