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Pixar's Latest Adventure Is The Animated Film 'Onward' : NPR


NPR’s Rachel Martin talks to Claudia Puig of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association about the new animated film Onward — two teenage elves set off on a magical quest to bring back their dad.



RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: In the new Pixar film “Onward,” a couple of blue teenaged elves set off on a magical quest to cast a spell and bring back their dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “ONWARD”)

CHRIS PRATT: (As Barley Lightfoot) The spell brings him back.

TOM HOLLAND: (As Ian Lightfoot) Back like back to life?

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Laurel Lightfoot) He wanted to meet you more than anything.

HOLLAND: (As Ian Lightfoot) Dad?

MARTIN: Claudia Puig is president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and she’s here to talk about Pixar’s latest adventure. Hi, Claudia.

CLAUDIA PUIG: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: First off, just introduce us to the world that Pixar has created with this film.

PUIG: Well, it is a world of elves and trolls and centaurs and cyclops and manticores. And it’s a magical world. But it’s a magical world in which the magic has been rendered kind of moot because technology has come in and sort of pushed magic out of the way.

MARTIN: It always does.

PUIG: Well, and sadly, it seems like it kind of did with this film, too.

MARTIN: Oh, say more.

PUIG: Well, you know, the concept of these two brothers who miss their father and can, you know, bring him back is a really winning one. But the film itself felt kind of bland and even derivative. There were some scenes that kind of reminded me of, like, a lesser “Shrek” or “How To Train Your Dragon.”

It lacked the inventive quality that we’ve come to expect so much from Pixar. I mean, they’ve been doing this for – you know, since they started 25 years ago with “Toy Story.” They’ve made 22 full-length features. We expect, you know, wit and humanity and innovation. And so our expectations are very high. And this feels just kind of ordinary at best.

MARTIN: That’s a sad word, ordinary. But the talent involved is extraordinary, right? You’ve got Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, who are the voices of the two brothers who are on this quest to bring back their dad. I mean, do they not pull off those roles? What’s their chemistry like?

PUIG: You know, it’s not so much that they don’t pull it off. They’re fine. It’s just that their characters are kind of underwritten. The Tom Holland character – he’s just this kind of panicky guy who doesn’t seem to have any – he’s known more for his failings and his weaknesses. He’s fearful. He doesn’t have friends. He doesn’t want to learn to drive. He doesn’t seem to have any passions or hobbies.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PUIG: And then his brother is exactly the opposite – Chris Pratt’s character. He’s full of bluster, and he’s driven by his hobbies. But he’s kind of one-note. You know, some of the best moments in Pixar films are the wordless ones, like that amazing montage in “Up”…

MARTIN: Yeah.

PUIG: …Or WALL-E’s romance with EVE. And they let these beautiful visuals tell the story. And here, it’s talky. It feels like it’s kind of the antithesis of what we’ve come to, you know, associate with Pixar.

MARTIN: That’s kind of depressing, Claudia. But in the spirit of trying to end this conversation on an up note, I mean, you did say there’s something about the narrative. There are these kids. They’re trying to save their dad. I mean, the storyline might be a little complicated and clunky, but there is still some emotional value in this?

PUIG: Yes, yeah. So I think particularly for adults, the idea of wanting to bring back a loved one and, you know, wanting to reconnect just for that one day is certainly – it resonates for a lot of us who have lost parents or lost a loved one. So – and the moments of brotherly bonding, you know, are kind of sweet. So it has some moments.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PUIG: Yeah (laughter).

MARTIN: Just not maybe an hour and a half’s worth of them?

PUIG: Not an hour and a half’s worth of moments, no (laughter).

MARTIN: All right. Claudia Puig, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Claudia, thanks. We appreciate it.

PUIG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF JEFF DANNA AND MYCHAEL DANNA’S “THE WORLD WAS FULL OF WONDER”)

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