Pixar’s Onward is a big piece of purple rock candy that greatly benefits from the 4DX format. The hyper-realistic animation fits perfectly with everything 4DX has to offer, turning this swift little road trip into one carnival of an adventure, sure to be enjoyed by the whole family.
A lot of Onward takes place inside a Van decked out in ’80s airbrushed glory. And for the duration of this short ride, the seat rocks and shakes you into believing you are riding right alongside Elf brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot. There is a pretty great chase sequence involving some biker fairies that is worth the price of admission. Pixar knows how to have fun, and that’s what Onward ultimately is.
It’s escapist entertainment at its finest, and there is nothing wrong with that. Though there are some heavier themes at play. The story revolves around two siblings who lost their father early on in life. Barley only has three memories of his dad, four if you count the time he refused to visit his father on his death bed. Ian, on the other hand, never got a chance to meet his pops. So, just from this easy set up, you know there will be some tears poured out in the theater.
Go ahead and leave the water button on this time. 4DX promises to spray you once or twice, with a nice rain sequence that brings drops from the sky. So if you’re embarrassed to show emotion amongst your seat mates, you can always pretend that it’s the prefabricated H20 dribbling out of the ceiling.
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Ian and Barley’s dad Wilden Lightfoot was a practicing wizard in a fantasy landscape full of orgs and unicorns that has given itself over to technology. He has left a magical staff to be given to Ian on his sixteenth birthday. And with that staff, Ian and Barley should be able to conjure their father for one last 24 hour period.
They only manage to materialize half of his body, though, with a pair of trousers set loose to wander around in the background of scenes as Ian and Barley connect and bond as brothers. The movie is a race against time, literally, with Ian constantly watching the ticking hours on his watch. A great deal of the movie takes place inside Barley’s fantasy van as they go on one rollicking road trip to recover a special gem for their magical staff and restore their father to his full glory. And that’s where the real magic of the 4DX comes into play. There inside that vehicle. It’s like being on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. Strap in and buckle up.
The van, whose name is Guinevere, has a huge presence in the movie. So much so, that director Dan Scanlon manages to get a more emotionally impactful scene from the vehicle’s final act of bravery than the waterworks he conjures up with all that father-son business. But perhaps that’s just coming from a van enthusiast who didn’t entirely buy into the conceit being sold in the big climax of the movie. On that note, two dudes sitting next to me weeped hard in the third act, as a lone woman sitting between them patted them on the back with a frowny face as if to say, ‘It’s okay.’ Yeah. It’s that type of movie for some.
For the most part, Onward feels like a throwback to those grand fantasy adventures from the 80s. Its Dungeons and Dragons turned into a colorful sitcom. The runtime doesn’t exceed the 95 minute mark, it’s a short jaunt that is very welcome and refreshing. There is plenty packed into this package, with lots of 4DX bells and whistles to make the ride that much more exciting. There is smoke, fireworks, and a lot of simulated car rides that put you directly into this stylish and funny outing. Perhaps it’s not Pixar’s best movie ever, but as an original movie it’s a blast. And there probably isn’t a better alternative for families coming in the next couple of weeks. Enjoy it while you can. You can find participating 4DX theaters at the official CJ4DX.com website.
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Contributing writer for Movieweb since 2001. Owns a dog who loves watching Milo and Otis on repeat.