Onward is a 2020 American computer-animated urban fantasy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The film is directed by Dan Scanlon, produced by Kori Rae and written by Scanlon, Jason Headley, and Keith Bunin. It stars the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Octavia Spencer. Set in a suburban fantasy world, the film follows two elf brothers who set out on a quest to find an artifact that will bring back their deceased father.

Onward premiered at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival on February 21, 2020 and was released worldwide in the United States on March 6, 2020. It received generally positive reviews from critics and has grossed $106 million worldwide. The film’s financial shortcomings were attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the film’s early closure from theaters. Like several other films released in March, it was made available digitally several weeks after its theatrical release.

Onward Development

In July 2017, Pixar announced a “suburban fantasy world” film at the D23 Expo, with Scanlon directing and Rae producing. The film was inspired by the death of Scanlon’s father, when he and his brother were younger, and their relationship. He decided to write the story after hearing an audio clip of his father. On December 12, 2018, the title was revealed. In 2019, Headley and Bunin were hired to rewrite the screenplay and story.

Onward Casting

On December 12, 2018, Holland, Pratt, Louis-Dreyfus and Spencer were announced as starring in the film. While having recorded most of their lines separately, Holland and Pratt did some of their recording sessions together since, according to Scanlon, “they’ve worked together before and hung out together”. According to Rae, Holland and Pratt improvised some of their lines while recording together. On December 17, 2019, Wong, Waithe and Rodriguez joined the cast of the film. On February 18, 2020, Valderrama, Ullman, Bornheimer, Psarras and Ratzenberger were revealed to have been cast in the film.

Onward Music

On April 16, 2019, Mychael and Jeff Danna were revealed to be the film’s composers. On February 12, 2020, Brandi Carlile revealed she recorded the song “Carried Me With You” for the film’s end credits. She co-wrote it with Phil and Tim Hanseroth. The film’s soundtrack was released on February 28, 2020.

All music is composed by the Dannas, except where noted.

Onward Deleted scene

There was a storyboard scene where Ian, Barley, and Wilden are joined with a goat girl in the journey. Ian and the goat girl come across a booth hosted by three evil mermaids. The mermaids sing their mesmerizing song to lure the two into staying in one of three houses put for rent. Ian tries to silence them with the staff but the spell is too weak. When Ian and the goat girl are finally in a trance, the mermaids place them in one of the houses. The house they are in starts to sink into the ground.

The goat girl was omitted because the filmmakers want the film to focus on the relationship between Ian and Barley. The scene itself was removed because the filmmakers felt it was too grim.

Onward Box office

Onward grossed $61.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $44.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $106 million. The gross of the film was significantly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which forced most movie theaters to shut down within 2 weeks after its release.

In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside The Way Back and the wide expansion of Emma, and was projected to gross $45–50 million from 4,200 theaters in its opening weekend. The film held early advance screenings on February 29, and made $650,000 from 470 theaters. It then made $12.1 million on its first day, including $2 million from Thursday night previews. The film went on to debut to $39.1 million, topping the box office but marking the third-ever lowest start for a Pixar film.

While the film remained in first in its second weekend, it dropped 73% to $10.5 million (the worst-ever second weekend for a Pixar film), and was part of the lowest total-grossing weekend since October 1998, with all films combining for just $55.3 million. In the film’s third weekend, due to the mass theater closures around the country, it made $71,000 from 135 locations, mostly drive-in theaters.

Onward Critical response

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 88% based on 314 reviews, with an average rating of 7.18/10. The website’s critics consensus reads: “It may suffer in comparison to Pixar’s classics, but Onward makes effective use of the studio’s formula – and stands on its own merits as a funny, heartwarming, dazzlingly animated adventure.” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 56 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of “A–” on an A+ to F scale (tied with Cars 2 for the lowest score received by a Pixar film), and PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian gave it three out of five stars, and called the movie “a likable family comedy that finds an easy rhythm without effort” although felt that movie’s “attitude towards death” is not radically powerful as in Coco. In a same star review Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said “It’s no Toy Story—but the animation juggernaut’s latest, about two elf brothers on a quest, is still worth your while.”

James Berardinelli, in his review praised its originality, emotional weight and called it “engaging and enjoyable”, and that “There’s something here for everyone”, though concluded that it isn’t a next Disney/Pixar classic. Ben Travis of Empire Magazine gave the film a five out of five stars and said: “Pixar returns with a great big power-chord of a movie—heart-pumping, resonant, and positively harmonious.”

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times called Onward a step back for Pixar, giving it two out of four stars. He said, “The story fluctuates between the uninspired and the just plain weird and then gets even weirder.” While he praised the animation and said that the movie “begins with an intriguing premise”, he concluded that it “doesn’t come close to fully fleshing out the possibilities”.

Ban and censorship

The film was banned in the Arab countries of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, as one female cyclops police officer character in the film named Specter (voiced by Lena Waithe) briefly indicates that she is a lesbian. The scene in question is a brief scene in which Colt Bronco is lamenting about how Ian and Barley Lightfoot do not respect him as a father figure. Specter then replies to him by saying, “It’s not easy being a new parent—my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?”

Homosexual acts are criminalized in these four aforementioned countries, which are predominantly Muslim, although Kuwait does not criminalize female homosexual acts. However, this ban is not universal, and the film has been screened in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Egypt.

In Russia, where the gay propaganda law officially criminalizes the dissemination of LGBT-related content to minors under 18, the Russian dub, handled by Disney Character Voices International, changed the line to “It’s not easy being a new parent—my partner’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?” instead. The Russian dub also avoided referring to Specter with gender-specific pronouns.

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