MOVIE BUFF-ET: Predictable ‘Onward’ one of Pixar’s lesser efforts


How do you steal most of the magic from Pixar’s latest computer-generated animated film?

Move its setting from “once upon a time in a magical land” to a modern suburban wasteland populated by mythical creatures who’ve mostly lost their connection to magic because of convenience and laziness.

There are a few funny gags early in the movie like two scrubby, flightless unicorns hissing at each other over garbage like a couple of wigged out possums, but the inventiveness of the jokes becomes thinner and thinner as the quest adventure of two elfin brothers moves along at a predictable and pedestrian rate.

The film, directed by Dan Scanlon (“Monsters University”), features a typical role-playing game plot where the two brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) must go on a quest to retrieve a jewel that will allow them to meet with their deceased father for one day. Older brother Barley has fond memories of his dad, while Ian was too young at the time of his father’s death to remember him.

On Ian’s 16th birthday, he learns that he has the ability to tap into the world’s remaining magical resources with abilities he inherited. He must use those powers on his and Barley’s quest to find the jewel.

On the quest, Ian and Barley, of course, grow closer and begin to appreciate each other unique qualities that help them stay relatively safe in the face of danger while on their search.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus voiced the brother’s mother Laurel, who is concerned for the boys’ safety, and Octavia Spencer voiced Corey the manticore, who provides the brothers a map for their quest and later teams with their mom to help them find while tracking down the jewel.

The film isn’t an absolute strikeout for Pixar, but it is more of a bloop single than the home runs the studio regularly produces with its animated family fare. “Onward” will probably keep younger kids and pre-teens in giggles, but there’s not a lot of meat on the bone for adults until the admittedly tender and heart-felt conclusion.

If the kids just “have” to see this one, “Onward” is tolerable, but if it were me, I’d try to talk them into seeing “Call of the Wild” instead. It’s a better crafted film with a stronger story that might prompt them to pick up a book.

(PG) 1 hr. 50 min.
Grade: C

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • Onward(PG) 1 hr. 50 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Malco Pinnacle Hills, Bentonville Skylight
  • The Way Back(R) 1 hr. 48 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • Greed(R) 1 hr. 44 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square
  • Emma(PG) 2 hr. 1 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills

Classic Corner – The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Joel McCrea and Fay Wray in The Most Dangerous Game / RKO Radio Pictures

If “The Most Dangerous Game” sounds familiar, you possibly read Richard Connell’s short story in middle school. The film is based on the once-popular tale and is the first and to my taste the best of the many film adaptations of the story in which a bored hunter Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) hunts men for sport.

Zaroff inhabits a jungle island near a channel in South America where he has rigged a trap for yachts seeking to pass through the channel at night. When the boats are grounded, he kidnaps survivors and forces them to play his real life game of chess, except Zaroff arms himself with guns and only gives his prey a knife.

So far, Zaroff has never lost his deadly game, and he keeps the heads of his prey on display in his trophy room. This time, though, Zaroff’s prey just happens to be big-game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), who survived the grounding of a yacht along with Eve (Fay Wray) and Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong).

Zaroff hunts and kills Martin off screen, but when Bob and Eve discover him with Martin’s dead body, Zaroff finally explains the game to them and gives the two a hunting knife and several hours head start. If Bob and Eve can stay alive until 4 a.m., they win the game. Otherwise, more heads for Zaroff’s trophy room.

The film is creepy and builds tension right up to the climax. Banks’ Zaroff comes off cartoonishly to a modern audience, but hey, that’s part of the fun. McCrea is sturdy as Bob and Wray is fine in one of her many damsel in distress roles.

Interestingly enough, RKO Radio Pictures filmed the movies at night on the same sets where the studio was filming the 1933 classic “King Kong,” which, of course, also featured Wray and Armstrong in featured rolls.

The short story and film versions are the inspiration for the satire “The Hunt,” which opens March 13. The movie borrows the basic premise of the novel, but places it in a modern setting to mock the political dissension existing in U.S. today.

The 1932 version of “The Most Dangerous Game” airs on Turner Classic Movies at 11:15 a.m. Monday, if you’d like to check it out.