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  Onward For Elf Reasons
Year: 2020
Director: Dan Scanlon
Stars: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey Griffin, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama, George Psarras, John Ratzenberger
Genre: Comedy, Animated, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: There was a time when magic was rife across the land, and wizards and witches were able to use it with skill, but those days are long gone, leaving a population of magical creatures who use stuff like lightbulbs, mobile phones and cars never needing to apply the supernatural to their lives again. Most of them are not too bothered by this life of convenience, but for some, it was a lost time of wonder and would be great to return to it, though despite their hopes they are aware this will never happen. One sixteen-year-old, Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland), would certainly benefit from the more magical life, it might get him some friends for a start; he blames his absent father for this...

Though his father has a good reason for being absent: he's dead. Indeed, he passed away before Ian got to know him, therefore he is jealous of his big brother Barley (Chris Pratt, making this an unofficial Marvel reunion) who does have three, maybe four memories of their parent, though unlike the mopey sibling, Barley is relentlessly upbeat and optimistic. This is because he has something to take his mind off his problems, an escape from the harsh realities of what could have been a disadvantaged existence: he plays Dungeons & Dragons. Except it's not actually called that in the movie, it just might as well have been since that's obviously what they were referring to in-story.

It was a nice touch, the elves who make up the main characters being transported by the very thing their culture had taken for granted so much that it disappeared outside of fantasy tales, and this comfort in childhood diversions was a strong part of the point director Dan Scanlon was making about moving on, accepting the past but building on it, not wallowing in it. Ian (can't be many movies featuring a lead called Ian. Or Iain) is hampered by the ideas of what might have been rather than constructing his own life with what was, or is, and he takes a while to cotton on to the fact that he may not have had a father figure, but he did have a loving brother and mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Nevertheless, the plot saw fit to dangle a tantalising element of that past before him like a carrot for a mule, all to get him kickstarted on a path to self-realisation: it was appropriate that kind of nineteen-seventies thinking should be couched in a very seventies concept of what fantasy stories should be, part Lord of the Rings, part hippy-dippy idealism and attainment of personal actualisation goals. It turns out Ian's dad was a dabbler in magic before he popped his clogs, and honed a spell to bring him back on the kid's sixteenth birthday as a present, but only for a day - when the sun sets, he will vanish forever. Finding a staff as a present, complete with magic stone, he brings back the man just as he said. Well, he half does. Barley gets overexcited in his puppyish fashion and messes up the spell.

This leaves Ian the chance to spend the day with, er, half his dad, a development that for all the well-worn trappings of the setting was at least quite original, an idea worthy of Terry Pratchett. It's the bottom half, which can be communicated with by tapping his foot and dad dancing, but now Ian and Barley need to get another crystal to restore the rest of him before he disappears. Thus we were on another fantasy trope, the quest, which was contrasted with the comical mundanity of the world as it now was. This did lead to some genuinely good gags, but the desire of the film appeared to be to make you cry, as with many a Pixar project, and that would probably only apply if, like Scanlon, you had lost your father and had additional issues that went unresolved because of it. It was well-meaning, hard to dislike, and had a premise and world-building that you imagine could be used again for a range of yarns, but remained a shade too scatty in its delivery to rank among the studio's greatest. But that was no slight. Music by Jeff Danna and Mychael Danna.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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