‘Onward’ Review: Pixar’s family fantasy is satisfying, standard fare from the animation giant

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 


There are few words, if any, that I imagine have been used to describe a Pixar movie more often than “magical.” The ingenious premise of “Toy Story,” the odyssey of Wall-E wordlessly cleaning an abandoned world, the sheer joy of “Un Poco Loco” being sung in a vibrant rendition of the Land of the Dead—all worthy of being called “magical” 25 years into a period that’s seen the bar for animation raised higher than the 50 years prior.

It’s about time, then, that Pixar has made a movie where magic is an explicit force in the story, though “Onward” – the first of two films coming from the animation funhouse studio in 2020 – is less another landmark of innovation and more a plug-‘n-play production with familiar aesthetic delights. The movie is fun (enjoyable even!), but despite “Onward” being leagues better than backwards Pixar misfires like “Cars 2” or “The Good Dinosaur,” “fun” and “enjoyable” is no “magical.” Such is the Pixar Standard.

Shepherding requisite genre tropes of self-belief and familial forgiveness within the influence of “Dungeons & Dragons,” “Lord of the Rings” and maybe a sprinkling of John Hughes, too, “Onward’s” premise is the movie’s most original aspect and also its least-explored: While there are centaurs, unicorns and elves in this world, they don’t engage in spell-casting practices, but instead drive blocky police cars, run pawn shops and pull on sweatshirts to get ready for the first day of school. Per the world-building narration that’s offered early on, the unpredictability of magic at one point became inferior to the reliability of technology, and a community otherwise nestled in the crook of a mythical valley has taken on the look of a suburban town. The setting is beautifully-rendered, but at the risk of saying the movie has a “DreamWorks feel” as if that studio was artistically inferior, “Onward” lacks the jaw-dropping visual splendor of recent fare like “Coco” or “Toy Story 4.” Continue reading →

Jurassic World is one attraction to avoid at all costs

Nostalgia is a commodity being fully exploited by Hollwood in 2015, with modern installments to such classic franchises like Star Wars, Terminator, Mad Max and, of course, Jurassic Park being released.

A smart film producer knows that while nostalgia can bring in the big bucks just with a title and release date, it must be delicately utilized to prevent going so far as making an original look bad.

Simply put, director Colin Trevorrow and his staff of writers fail on all fronts when it comes to being delicate with the throwbacks in Jurassic World. They bombard you with them, and thus take two steps back while they believe they’re leaping forward as they sacrifice the process of trying to make something refreshing but familiar for the sake of mind-numbing spectacle that really isn’t that spectacular.

Oh, to to be sure, the throwbacks are there. John Williams’ epic score, implemented at the most inopportune times. The old red, black and yellow logo of Dr. Hammond’s original dream, seemingly forced in. Even some fan favorite dinos make an appearance, but they just don’t feel like an old friend we so desperately want to embrace. Such is the way of the modern blockbuster, which is exactly what Jurassic World aspired to be, I suppose.

Don't pretend like you don't know what happens next.

Don’t pretend like you don’t know what happens next.

But Jurassic Park was a blockbuster, too. One of the most successful in history, in fact. And it wasn’t all just scary dinosaurs; it was the memorable characters, the eloquent script, the believable scenarios and character motives and imaginative direction.

Those are vital components of every movie, and Jurassic World doesn’t deliver on a single one, save for the a few – yes, just a few – cool action set pieces involving the prehistoric threats.

Instead, those things are all made expendable, in hopes that the audience doesn’t notice. Except it’s pretty hard not to. Everyone’s here for the dinos, and while the CGI creations (*sigh*, we’ll get to those in a minute) are cool and popcorn fare-y, we get impatient waiting for them to finally come on board and take over.

Yes, there are humans storylines too, there has to be. Claire is the big bosslady running things at Jurassic World, trying to get potential investors/sponsors to come on board with a new attraction while “supervising” her visiting nephews, Gray and Zach.

She’s also one of the most static, dull, painfully stock characters to grace the big screen this year, and probably in recent memory. She’s unbelievably stereotyped, the very definition of a trope, one caught in a world where character development just doesn’t exist. She gets her small, tiny, minuscule moment at film’s end, but otherwise she just doesn’t offer anything new as the preoccupied aunt caught up in the madness. It doesn’t help that Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, The Village, Spider-Man 3) plays her like a zombie. C’mon, open those eyes a little!

Haven't we seen your character in, like, any other movie, ever?

Haven’t we seen your character in, like, any other movie, ever?

Unfortunately, the film’s other characters aren’t much better. The nephews are an obvious attempt at a conduit for the audience to connect and sympathize with, in the same way that we fell in love with Jurassic Park’s bickering siblings Lex and Tim Murphy as they hid from velociraptors in the kitchen, climbed over electric fences, shuddered in terror in the Jeep. You just don’t care for Gray and Zach, no matter how hard you try. They’re just more stock characters – in the form of immature teenage brothers who are nothing alike yet must bond in the face of death – that we’ve come to know for years.

And everyone else…my goodness. How spent over two hours longing for the humble charisma of Sam Neill’s Alan Grant, the lovable skepticism of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, the gentle egotism of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond.

Thank God for Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Rec), playing the snarky dinosaur supervisor Owen. Can we get that man in Indiana Jones’ fedora already? He embodies what little charm and belief Jurassic World holds for the audience, and even then – even then – he is static. Never-changing. Stock. At least he has a knack for making two or three of his one-liners bearable. Other than that, his personality – the one we saw on display in last year’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy – feels restrained.

Characters are born from script, and the writers certainly didn’t do them any favors. It’s so much a disservice to the franchise, how unoriginal these characters are, that you almost have to cringe when the end credits read “Based on characters by Michael Crichton”, the novelist who wrote the original Jurassic Park. This isn’t what you had in mind, Michael, that much is true.

Welcome to a world without cinematic rules.

Welcome to a world without cinematic rules.

The script isn’t jumbled, it’s just guilty of committing a great number of cinema’s cardinals sins. It’s predictable, utterly predictable, like a skeleton of an idea from film school. Characters never learn from their actions. It chooses to inexplicably venture into other genres just for the hell of it. It embarrasses itself so many times throughout the film when it tries to be something it knows it isn’t…moments of just sheer incredulity and awkwardness, almost like it’s trying to parody itself. It’s more frustrating than standing in the longest lines at Jurassic World would be.

BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE HUMANS! We all came for the dinosaurs! The mayhem and madness! The wizardry of modern special effects!

Of course, the movie for the most part delivers on that front. There’s tension… the dinosaurs look pretty.

What, you were expecting more? Aren’t ALL man-eating monsters scary to you?

The fact of the matter is, the film even manages to stumble with most of its big action set-pieces. They feel rushed and stuffed with illogical choices and almost constantly recycled choreography, which characters making stupid decisions and certain scenes you are literally almost expected to already imagine in your head as you sit down in the theater. Things finally get good at the end when the pterodactyls wreak havoc on the park, while the film’s big baddie – the Indominus Rex – is basically a 50 foot tall serial killer with scales and a tail.

Owen trains his pets.

Owen trains his pets.

Dare I say it, I missed the animatronics of yestercentury; the more practical effects of Jurassic Park, as compared to the requisite green screens and “ultrarealistic” majesty of modern CGI made for creatures that were hard to really feel awed by. And just imagine how tough it is for the actors, who have to pretend to be terrified while staring at…nothing at all.

The writers obviously felt they had a hill to climb as far as making a refreshing, new beast. Which is why, I guess, they chose to give the damn thing the ability to camouflage. “Nobody is impressed by a dinosaur anymore,” Claire says early in the movie. Apparently not. Whatever inhabits Jurassic World feels incredibly far from the dinos that gave us nightmares in Jurassic Park.

Over 1,000 words of my thoughts on Jurassic World and I didn’t even get to the worst part.





Seriously, it’s embarrassing for Universal. You don’t even have to look for it. In one scene all you need to do is listen. It’s so unbearably bad that the movie resembles the Super Bowl: any and every scene with dinos are the entertainment (ostensibly) while the parts in between where characters drive product placement, hide in product placement, make fun of the movie’s own damn product placement is the commercials in between that you just want to get through to get back to the action. It’s horrid. Nothing less.

I could go on and on about how Jurassic World fails to live up to the expectations set by even today’s most overdone summer blockbusters. I could talk about its blatant-at-times sexism – including one seemingly never-ending exchange between Owen and Claire that is almost straight out of a ‘’60s workplace. I could talk about the downright laughable attempts at humanity and intimacy between characters and dinosaurs, with absolutely zero chemistry between pretty much anyone. I could talk more about the throwbacks, some of which could literally be shot-for-shot remakes from Jurassic Park, but I fear it would just make me change my mind about that original film and its artistry. But there is no redemption for Jurassic World.

Its cinematic morals are long extinct.


In a Nutshell

There was a single, dominating (Indominus?) thought I had as the final battle in Jurassic World played out before me, to the swell of an ominous chorus that belongs in something like Lord of the Rings, no less: this isn’t Jurassic Park. This isn’t at all what made Spielberg’s classic so fantastic, so intimate, an inspiration for countless future sci-fi franchises. Rather, it is a project so devoid of passion, direction and charm that itt almost falls into Transformers territory.

This isn’t Jurassic Park. But I suppose we were warned – it’s right in the title: Jurassic WORLD. And it isn’t a world I intend on returning to.

2.5 / 10


Jurassic World is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril

Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard

Directed by Colin Trevorrow




 David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.