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The Impact of Technological Innovations on Sports Betting in Colorado: A Primer
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In the sports betting domain, Colorado stands as a unique arena where technological advancements have significantly reshaped the landscape. As...

Pixar’s magic lives on in ‘Onward’

There was a time when Pixar reigned supreme as the unchallenged, unquestioned king of toon town — ruling over their cutesy, commercial, cartoon competition with an iron, almost totalitarian fist — swiftly clapping back at any movie that dared to challenge its authority with deeper, realer, more heartfelt stories that pushed the limits of what adults believed their children were capable of handling on their movie screens to more tear-jerking depths.

In a world where animation had descended into nothing more than cheap, self-referential gags and sneering, shallow rebukes of its predecessors, “Luxo Jr.” shined through as the sole light amid the darkness.

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However, as the years have gone on and the studio’s original founders have begun to retire and turn the company over to the next generation of animators, this light has slowly grown dimmer and has begun blending in more and more with the darkness that enshrouds it.

This is, unfortunately, only further evidenced by the studio’s latest offering, the J. R. R. Tolkien-inspired, Tom Holland and Chris Pratt led “Onward.”

Following the story of elven brothers Barley and Ian Lightfoot as they journey to find a gem that will allow them to resurrect the remainder of their deceased father — who has been reduced to a pair of disembodied legs after the brothers’ initial attempt to restore him back to life went awry — the film is a funny, sentimental and entertaining ride that’s sure to delight audiences of all ages.

That being said, it is a Pixar film — an original Pixar film — which is a label that carries with it the implication that the piece will deliver something deeper and more profound than mere delight, which, unfortunately, “Onward” does not.

The movie projects a deep, thoughtful understanding of what makes Pixar movies — and, indeed, all great animated movies since the days of Walt Disney — so memorable and so impactful: the idea that the magic that intoxicates us as children never truly leaves us or the world we live in, but is instead merely forgotten about as we grow old.”

This isn’t to say it doesn’t try to achieve the kind of depth for which its predecessors are so widely known and regarded — it does.

The movie projects a deep, thoughtful understanding of what makes Pixar movies — and, indeed, all great animated movies since the days of Walt Disney — so memorable and so impactful: the idea that the magic that intoxicates us as children never truly leaves us or the world we live in, but is instead merely forgotten about as we grow old and begin to focus increasingly on convenience, expediency and immediacy rather than the deep-seated joy that comes from embracing the full range of emotions that makes us human and that inspires the love and passion for life that we so desperately seek. 

This is what has always sets Pixar movies apart. They take the concepts, the ideas and the genres that inspire magic in us when we’re young — the toys we play with, the superheroes we read about, the monsters in our closets — and rather than trying to expose that magic as fraudulent and mockable (as DreamWorks films do) or apologize for leading us to believe in it in the first place (as the current slew of Disney films with their shallow subversions of traditional tropes and cliches do), they peel away at the layers of that magic to expose its more meaningful, complex and eternal source.

They say, “Yes, magic is real. We’ve just lost touch with its purpose.” Pixar’s golden era was so successful because it produced films for children that were actually willing to embrace their childish naivete and not try and act as the high and mighty purveyor of all truth. 

While some of the studio’s latest efforts (most notably 2019’s radically individualistic “Toy Story 4”) have failed to lean into this magic, “Onward” acknowledges it with full force.

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The whole story is literally about rediscovering magic and the necessity of embracing danger, discomfort and uncertainty in order to do so. On the surface, the movie projects a very deep understanding of what has made its predecessors so effective, so memorable and so powerful.

“Onward” doesn’t rise and fall and pause and steep in its emotion the way that the studio’s earlier films do — but instead is constantly in motion.”

The problem is that this understanding is only skin deep. It’s communicated in the script and the dialogue but isn’t captured in the film’s tone and pacing, which are far more akin to the light, bubbly, reassuring style prevalent in modern mainstream animated movies.

“Onward” doesn’t rise and fall and pause and steep in its emotion the way that the studio’s earlier films do but instead is constantly in motion. So, the powerful message that makes up the film’s core simply doesn’t resonate with the audience in the same way other films’ messages do.

It is told to the audience, spit out at them over and over again through dialogue, but it is never given the space to actually land the way it does in the company’s other films.

Think Buzz Lightyear’s realization that he’s just a toy during the “Sailing No More” sequence in “Toy Story” or Sulley scaring Boo in “Monsters, Inc.” or just about any scene in “WALL·E.” These are the kinds of moments that make Pixar films brilliant and illustrate the studio’s respect for and trust of its young audience and their ability to absorb and appreciate deeper, more melancholy themes and ideas.

Rather, “Onward” is a simple, surface level regurgitation of a profound moral.

However, this lack of emotion shouldn’t be read as a write-off of the film as a whole. “Onward’s” flaws are not emblematic of a studio in decline so much as a studio in transition.

As mentioned earlier, Pixar is going through a season of change as the original Pixar team — men such as John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Ed Catmull and Lee Unkrich — hang up their hats and pass the operation off to a new generation of filmmakers who are still trying to break into the monstrous shoes they have to fill.

And while “Onward” may not capture the same sense of quiet, raw emotion that previous Pixar films do, it clearly recognizes where that emotion comes from, what it means and what makes it so powerful.

So, though it is flawed, the film still serves as a refreshing indication of a brighter future in store for the beloved animation studio.

Scotty Powell can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @scottysseus

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