Review: ‘Onward,’ starring Chris Pratt and Tom Holland

March 6, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) in “Onward” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Onward”

Directed by Dan Scanlon

Culture Representation: Taking place in a magical world (where almost everyone has an American accent), the main characters of the animated film “Onward” are mythical creatures, but there are some human characters with minor supporting roles.

Culture Clash: A recurring theme in the movie is the conflicts between modern customs versus the magical customs.

Culture Audience: “Onward” is a family-friendly movie that will appeal to anyone who likes an adventurous and heart-warming story.

Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt) in “Onward” (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)

“Onward,” the first original film from Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios since 2017’s “Coco,” won’t be winning any Oscars as “Coco” did, but it’s a solid animated film that will be a crowd-pleaser for people of various generations. The movie (directed by Dan Scanlon who wrote the screenplay with Keith Bunin and Jason Headley) spends most of the film as a Pixar version of a video game. The story is simple and straightforward, involving the main characters doing a series of challenges to get to a coveted treasure item. It isn’t until the last 15 minutes that “Onward” packs an emotional punch that shows the movie is a little deeper than a typical animated film.

In the beginning of the movie, which is narrated by teenage elf Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland), viewers learn that the world he lives in used to be filled with magic. But then modern technology took over, and magic became a antiquated custom that has been forgotten by numerous people in the world.

Ian lives with his kind and loving mother Laurel Lightfoot voiced by Julia-Louis Dreyfus) and his goofy older brother Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Chris Pratt). Laurel, who is a widow, has a “good guy” boyfriend named Colt Bronco (voiced by Mel Rodriguez), a centaur police officer. Ian and Barley’s father Wilden Lightfoot (voiced by Kyle Bornheimer) died when Ian was a bay and Barley was about three years old. Ian is about to turn 16, while Barley is 18 or 19. (His mother Laurel mentions that Barley is taking a “gap year.”)

Barley isn’t in school and he doesn’t seem to have a job, so he spends a lot of time at home being the kind of brother who often annoys Ian, who is studious and socially awkward. The two things that Barley is passionate about the most are his beat-up purple van that he’s named Guinevere and his encyclopedic knowledge of historical traditions in magic that hardly anyone around him seems to care about.

Barley also seems to be living in a “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”/”Wayne’s World” time warp, because he dresses and acts like a playful metalhead, just like those movies’ characters of Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth. Guinevere is also decked out like something out of the late ’80s/ early ’90s, with the bumper stickers to prove it. Ian is often embarrassed by Barley, because he thinks of himself as intellectually superior to Barley, whose behavior is sometimes like a hyper puppy.

In one scene that shows the tension between the two brothers, Ian has worked up the nerve to ask some of his classmates to his upcoming 16th birthday party. He’s delighted when they say yes. But when Barley shows up at Ian’s school, he embarrasses Ian so much that Ian tells his classmates that the party has been cancelled. What Ian doesn’t tell his classmates is he doesn’t want them to be around Barley, who would be at the party.

For Ian’s birthday, he gets a wizard’s staff that his father Wilden had set aside for Ian to get specifically when Ian turned 16. He uses the staff to make a wish to bring his father back to life for 24 hours. But something goes wrong during the spell, and only the lower half of Wilden’s body (from the waist down) has come back to life. The upper half of his body exists but is invisible.

And so begins Ian and Barley’s race against time to find the magical item that will fully transform Wilden Lightfoot back to his normal self. The item that has the power to do that is a rare, mystical gem that’s hidden. For most of the film, Ian and Barley go off on a frantic quest to find the gem in time before their father disappears when the sun comes up. Just like a video game, they have to complete a challenge to get to the next level in the puzzle that will led them to the gem.

Along the way, they meet a lively group of characters, most notably the sassy Manticore (voiced by Octavia Spencer), also known as a restaurateur named Corey. She’s the owner of Manticore’s Tavern, where she has gone to reinvent herself as a “respectable” member of society after having a wild past. Ian and Barley also encounter a biker gang of pixies that clash with the two brothers.

Meanwhile, the story takes on a “Weekend at Bernie’s” vibe when Ian and Barley have to dress the upper half of their father’s body, including making him wear sunglasses, so that they can see him better. Ian and Barley lead him around by a leash-like belt that’s wrapped around his waist. At times it looks a little creepy, but it’s all played for laughs. In his half-body state, Wilden can’t see or talk, but apparently he can hear sometimes. It’s a plot hole that has to be overlooked in order to enjoy this movie.

The visual effects in “Onward” are perfectly fine and much better than most animated films. But compared to other Pixar movies (such as the Oscar-winning “Toy Story” movies, “Up,” “Finding Nemo,” “Inside Out” and “The Incredibles”), “Onward” is on the lower end of the quality scale. And although “Onward” covers a lot of the same ideas that other “race against time” fantasy/adventure stories have done before, near the end of the film, one of the brothers does something slightly unpredictable that affects how he feels about his family. It’s a tear-jerking moment that a lot of viewers won’t see coming. And it wouldn’t be a Pixar movie if there isn’t a scene that’s meant to make people cry.

Disney/Pixar Animation Studios released “Onward” in U.S. cinemas on March 6, 2020.

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Disney will make “Onward” available on digital and on Movies Anywhere, as of March 20, 2020, and on the Disney+ streaming service, as of April 3, 2020.

Review: ‘Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made,’ starring Winslow Fegley, Ophelia Lovibond, Kyle Bornheimer, Wallace Shawn and Craig Robinson

February 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Winslow Fegley in "Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made"
Winslow Fegley in “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” (Photo by Dale Robinette/Disney+)

“Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made”

Directed by Tom McCarthy

Culture Representation: In this comedy based on the children’s book of a similar title, the racially diverse characters are primarily middle-class in Portland, Oregon.

Culture Clash: The story’s protagonist is a grim pre-teen boy who aspires to be a private detective, but he dislikes school, authority figures and almost everyone around him.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to children and other people who want to see a series of antics on screen instead of a compelling and coherent story.

Winslow Fegley, Chloe Coleman, Kei and Ai-Chan Carrier in "Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made"
Winslow Fegley, Chloe Coleman, Kei and Ai-Chan Carrier in “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” (Photo by Dale Robinette/Disney+)

If you’re tired of children’s entertainment that has a sweet-natured and upbeat protagonist, then “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made,” which is about a pessimistic child who’s a wannabe detective, might be up your alley. However, this comedy film’s flawed and scattered story will test the patience of anyone looking for a realistic and cohesive plot.

The “Timmy Failure” book series (written by Stephan Pastis) began in 2013 with “Timmy Failure: Look What Mistakes Were Made,” so this Disney+ movie adaptation might become a movie series too. If so, the “Timmy Failure” movie series is off to a very questionable start, but there’s a lot of room to improve. “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” was directed by Oscar-winning “Spotlight” screenwriter Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” screenplay with Pastis. “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” is perfect for a streaming service such as Disney+, since it’s doubtful that people would be willing to pay full ticket prices to see a movie about such an unlikable kid.

Timmy Failure is a fifth grader (about 10 or 11 years old) who lives in Portland, Oregon, and is—to put it nicely—very eccentric. He’s an antisocial loner who never smiles, and he has an extreme (and warped) sense of superiority about his intelligence. (He’s not as smart as he thinks he is.) He’s the kind of deliberately negative character who’s much more amusing to watch than to be around in real life. Timmy does a lot of deadpan narration in this film, and he says in the beginning of the story: “I am only concerned with one thing: greatness.”

But in reality, Timmy’s life isn’t so great. He’s barely getting by in school, because he’d prefer to start his own detective agency instead of studying and doing his homework. He has such a disdain for school that he doodles and sketches on test forms instead of filling out the tests with real answers. He also doesn’t think much of other people—his favorite word to describe most people is “problematic”—and his single-minded focus on becoming a private investigator includes a condescending attitude toward police.

Timmy also has a strange prejudice against Russians, whom he automatically suspects of being the perpetrators of any real or perceived crimes that he starts to investigate. His hatred of Russians (he calls them “evil”) seems out of place in a children’s story. Because Tommy’s animosity toward Russians is never explained and certainly never justified, this type of bigotry ultimately isn’t necessary. Imagine if he spouted that kind of hatred toward females or people of a different race. It wouldn’t make it past the editing process of this story.

Timmy’s parents split up years ago, so his bohemian single mother Patty Failure (played by Ophelia Lovibond) isn’t as attentive as she could be, because she’s overwhelmed with working to pay their bills. Timmy’s only “friend” is a 1,500-pound polar bear named Total, who showed up at Timmy’s house one day after the bear was forced out of its home due to global warming. It’s implied in the movie that Total is a figment of Timmy’s imagination, because the bear is seen walking around town, riding in automobiles and going to places where no wild animal of that size would be allowed, and yet people act like it’s perfectly normal.

In his cluttered and messy home, Timmy has set up his one-person “detective agency.” Another sign of his eccentricity is his unwillingness to use 21st-century or computerized resources in his work. His business cards are hand-written. He doesn’t seem to use the Internet. And to record interviews, he uses an old audiocassette recorder that’s held together by tape.

Another one of Timmy’s quirks his that he likes to wear a red scarf as often as possible. He also has this response whenever someone gets angry at something he did: “Normal is for normal people.” And whenever something disastrous happens because of one of his inevitable bad decisions, he says, “Mistakes were made.”

According to Timmy, the polar bear Total is supposed to be a partner in the detective agency, but the polar bear doesn’t do much in this movie except wander around town by itself and show up at infrequent, random moments when Timmy is around. Timmy transports himself by a Segway that his mother won in a church raffle. So, when the Segway (which he calls the Failure Mobile) gets stolen, he makes it his mission to find it and hold the thief responsible.

But before that happens, there are several side “investigations” that Timmy starts and then leaves hanging. He offers to find a fellow student’s lost backpack, but then never follows through on that promise. He’s tasked with the responsibility of taking care of his science class’ pet hamster in his home when it’s his turn to do so. But when he goes to pick up the hamster at the home of a fellow student, the hamster is dead, so Timmy says he’s going to launch a “homicide investigation” to find out who “murdered” the animal. (It never occurs to him that the hamster could have died of natural causes.) These subplots are really distractions and only serve the purpose of showing how annoying Timmy can be.

Timmy attends Cavarette Elementary School, where the classmate who can tolerate him the most is Charles “Rollo” Tookus (played by Kei), whom Timmy treats more as a sidekick than a real friend. Rollo and Timmy have an up-and-down relationship, since Timmy only seems to want to be around Rollo when he needs Rollo to help him with “detective work.” They’ve been estranged in the past: Timmy says in a voiceover narration that he had to “fire” Rollo as his business associate, but Rollo says he actually quit. As much as Timmy distrusts authority and breaks rules, Rollo (who has ambitions to go to Stanford University) likes to follow rules and respect authority.

Two other classmates who are in Timmy’s orbit are smart and likable Molly Moskins (played by Chloe Coleman) and rich girl Corrina Corrina (played by Ai-Chan Carrier). For reasons that aren’t explained in the movie, Timmy really dislikes Corrina to the point where he calls her the “most problematic” person he knows. He says that she and her family are Russian, even though there’s no proof that they are. And he refuses to call her by her name. He only refers to her as “The Nameless One.”

Is she some pre-teen female version of “Harry Potter” villain Voldemort? No. She’s actually very nice to Timmy and other people, but it’s implied that Timmy dislikes and fears her so much because he might have a secret crush on her and he thinks she’s out of his league. Timmy’s negativity about Corrina is so irrational that he thinks the Segway might be hidden in the bank that her father owns. So, Timmy and Rollo go “undercover” to the bank to investigate (their idea of “undercover” is  wearing hockey masks), and some slapstick silliness ensues.

During the course of the movie, Timmy’s mother Patty begins dating a “regular Joe” type of guy named Crispin (played by Kyle Bornheimer), who works as a parking enforcement officer. He’s so self-deprecating about his job that he even calls himself a “meter maid.” It’s a joke that’s made repeatedly in the movie until it starts to wear very thin. Not surprisingly, Timmy doesn’t respect or trust Crispin, even though Crispin tries to establish a rapport with him.

Timmy’s assigned school counselor Mr. Jenkins (played by Craig Robinson) also tries to form a friendly and caring bond with Timmy, but Timmy brushes off attempts by any adults (except his mother) to get close to him. She’s really the only adult he’s willing to obey—and that moment comes when a series of mishaps caused by Timmy result in her finally getting fed up with him and grounding him.

Meanwhile, there’s someone whom Timmy considers a true enemy: Mr. Crocus (played by Wallace Shawn), Timmy’s no-nonsense authoritarian science teacher, who’s been an educator for 43 years and who openly dislikes Timmy.  (The feeling is very mutual.) In a meeting with Timmy’s mother, Mr. Crocus tells her that he’s close to flunking Timmy if Timmy doesn’t drastically improve. Mr. Crocus mentions that Timmy and his mother have been given plenty of warnings, and this will be their last chance. If Timmy fails to pass Mr. Crocus’ class, then Timmy won’t graduate to middle school.

One of the best aspects of “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” is when the movie shows glimpses of fantasy sequences that are in his imagination. When middle school is first mentioned in the story, the scene flashes to Timmy’s imagination of kids being marched into a truck titled “Our Crusher of Souls.” When Timmy’s mother Patty mentions how great it would be to live in New York City, the scene cuts to a theater stage showing Timmy’s detective agency as the inspiration of an elaborate Broadway musical, complete with Total descending on the stage in a prop shaped like a half-moon. Another fantasy shows Total causing havoc in Crispin’s office at the police station, while Crispin lets out a horrified scream. But those refreshingly amusing fantasy sequences can’t quite make up for the trite and unfocused aspects of the story.

“Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” will be enjoyed best by people (mostly children) who just want to see a weird kid get into all kinds of trouble on screen. Fans of mystery/detective stories will be disappointed because crime-solving is not the real attraction. The real purpose of the Timmy Failure character is to show how someone who thinks very highly of himself is in reality very inept and clueless—and that will make viewers feel better about themselves. Timmy Failure is basically an American kid version of Inspector Clouseau of “The Pink Panther” series, but with a lot less clever writing.

Disney+ premiered “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” on February 7, 2020.