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Onward
  • Composed by Mychael and Jeff Danna
  • Walt Disney / 62m

Two boys get a chance to spend a few minutes with their late father in Onward, Pixar’s latest. But they have to go on a magical quest to do it. Along the way, they connect with each other in the traditional Pixar way -it’s a warm-hearted film which ticks the right boxes but doesn’t have the sort of lofty ambitions that distinguish the studio’s best.

The brotherly theme extends to the score, written by siblings Mychael and Jeff Danna, scoring their second Pixar movie (several years after the virtually-forgotten The Good Dinosaur). They’re both fine composers in their own right of course but do seem to enjoy collaborating together every now and again; a bit like the film itself, the score is at times quite delightful but ultimately is unlikely to go down as many people’s favourite Pixar score.

Mychael and Jeff Danna

The fantasy element of the film doesn’t come out until it’s quite a long way through, except initially in flashback, and a pair of fairly traditional orchestral fantasy pieces open the score on the album – “Quests of Yore” and “The World Was Full of Wonder” are both entertaining, even if they do suffer from what is really the score’s biggest problem – the 62 minute album contains no fewer than 45 tracks, more than half of which last less than a minute (many of them substantially less than a minute).

My favourite music is the emotional theme associated with the younger brother Ian (voiced by Tom Holland). It gets an absolutely lovely arrangement in “New Ian”, full of goodness and quiet determination and I love the gentle folk instrumentation. His brother Barley (Chris Pratt) is bigger and goofier and at least initially he gets more comedic material like the rock of “My Mighty Steed” and even more in “Going on a Quest” (one where typing the track title takes longer than listening to the track). Much later, there’s a bit of Morricone thrown in amongst the rock in the excellent “Sacrifice”.

There’s some heartbreaking music here associated with the boys’ father and his fate – “Wish I Could Spend the Day With You” is tragic but extremely beautiful – and the hope that springs forth in “Visitation Spell” is the flipside of this.

At times we hear dark fantasy action music which verges on horror territory – “The Spell”, “The Manticore’s Tavern” and “Tavern Remodelling” are in relative proximity in the middle of the album and are all fine examples of this. There’s no horror to “Driving Test” but it is another surprisingly dark piece of action music – full-throttled and one of the few cues to breach the three-minute barrier, it’s very impressive. Sometimes the action is more expansive – “The Trust Bridge” is really heroic, one of the score’s best pieces, and shortly after “Running From the Cops” is also very satisfying.

Less successful I think is what I term the “lighthearted creeping around” music, which is a bit too predictable with the pizzicato strings and little comic touches. Much of this could have been chopped out for a tighter, more consistent album listen.

The best portion of the album comes near the end. “Led Us To Our Victory!” (which seems to contain a typo) is a soaring piece of adventure music; “Share My Life With Him” is really lovely and touching with a grand finale; “Battling the Dragon” a pulsating piece of choral and orchestral action; “Dad” is the emotional catharsis; and “Magic Returns” the actual grand finale.

A lot of the ingredients are here for a really fine score – there’s action, adventure, fantasy and magic and at times really heartwarming emotional material, and all those components in isolation are done pretty well. It doesn’t really gel together that well though – the very short tracks are an issue and every time things look like they’re really getting going, they just don’t. That’s a shame because there is definitely music here worth hearing.

Rating: ***

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  1. Iso (Reply) on Monday 2 March, 2020 at 12:25

    great review! I wanted to ask if the review will be an invisible man?