Onward (U)***

Dir: Dan Scanlon

With: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Runtime: 107 mins

It’s been a seesawing few years for Pixar Animation, whose output has fluctuated between unnecessary sequels, some real oddities and the occasional masterpiece. Their latest surely falls into the oddity category - a fantasy adventure with a strong emotional core that takes a while to find its feet but which soars when it eventually does.

The primary reason for any initial struggle is the curiousness of the world it inhabits, one which looks exactly like ours, with its buildings and roads and everything else, but which is populated entirely by fantasy creatures - elves, pixies, dragons, centaurs - all living and working as though they were human.

It’s a world where real magic used to exist, and in fact was used to improve everyday life, but has fallen out of use to be replaced by scientific progress and invention to create the modern world we know today. Quite what we’re supposed to be missing out on by not having magic is one of the questions that goes unanswered as we’re thrust into a thoroughly bizarre main plot concerning elf brothers Ian and Barley (Holland and Pratt).

Their father died when they were young, but they stumble across a magic spell that will allow them to bring him back for a day.

Being a completely novice wizard though, Ian is only able to conjure his bottom half, which sends them on a quest to find the magical jewel to complete the spell to let them see their father again.

The result is an enjoyable adventure full of maps and traps and hidden secrets, but which never quite thrills or delights in the ways it ought to. It’s all a little pedestrian and underwritten, and the joke of the dad being just a pair of legs is an overused one.

The emphasis on the brotherly relationship is an admirable attempt to create poignancy, and we’re certainly in good hands with Holland and Pratt, but there’s never quite the sense of the differences between them that makes their healing fully earned.

Still, it all comes together for a neat finale where Pixar’s gift for the tear-jerking means we finish on a high.

Paul Greenwood