For the first 80% of the film, Onward was a fun-enough story set in a surprisingly inventive fantasy world that felt perfectly competent but never managed to get me that invested. Then in the final act, it made me cry. Twice. How Pixar does this is beyond me, but they are the masters at emotional manipulation! 😂
In some ways, I don't even mind that the characters didn't immediately enthral me. I'm not the target audience here, and that's kinda great. Since Toy Story, almost all of Pixar's catalogue has appealed to white, middle-of-the-road, Western audiences. It's taught moral lessons relevant to us and addressed the kind of traumatic life events that most people like me could expect to go through. But in the last five or so years, they've started branching out, touching on different cultures and championing different family dynamics, and it's excellent. But, ultimately, it means that I'm not going to empathise as much with a pair of brothers on a quest to temporarily resurrect their dead dad for a day. If you're a kid who grew up with strong, caring siblings or a missing parent, though, I imagine Onward will hit like a ton of bricks (in a good way, I hope).
Which, to be clear, is fine. The plot here is enjoyable, the characters are well structured, likeable, and have clear narrative arcs. As I said before, the world is incredibly imaginative and a huge amount of fun to just analyse, particularly if you enjoy the fantasy genre. I mean, it's a fantasy world with modern technologies. Cyclops using cell phones; centaurs in the police; urbanised pegasi-unicorns in the litter bins fighting over scraps of food. The little details sprinkled throughout are excellent and speak volumes to the world-building, but unlike similar attempts with movies like Monsters Inc. or A Bugs Life, the fun here is seeing the stuff your used to through the same lens as normal, but getting a different picture. It's quirky and, for the most part, it works well.
Could it be said that having an older brother who is also apparently a history buff that happens to have all the missing information they need to solve their puzzles and understand what's happening is a little bit of a lazy plot device? Sure, but the chemistry between Chris Pratt and Tom Holland sells it all anyway and their relationship plus adventure is fun enough for you not to really care.
At the end of the day, Onward isn't going to become a Pixar classic, but I think it will speak volumes to some people and be considered a solid enough family movie for everyone else to stand its own. It's hardly a deep movie, but it is good fun, and I don't think you should expect much more.