Sometimes the stories we’re given in the mainstream are given to us purely for profit- but if it’s entertaining enough we accept the inauthenticity of the gift. Other times we are given a carefully curated tale, designed to meet the palate of the biggest screen watching demographic in the world.
Which also brings it back to money.
So many stories revolve around money.
The spirit of the griot is far from dead, but equally far from present in the majority of what we consume. Stories meant to enlighten and empower, to provoke thought and ignite the soul, to honor and deconstruct tradition. That has so little to do with the process anymore. “Imagineering,” a portmanteau created by the all powerful Disney corporation back in their golden years is all but distant memory, a relic sought after only by those too poor to give it the shine it deserves once found.
So much engineering.
So little imagination (see: the endless rolodex of rebootmixquels).
And listen, don’t get me wrong, I understand the business balance to life. Creating a visual story costs money; it’s an investment, and investments are made solely with a return in mind. I get it. Don’t even disagree with it. But I’m an artist first- artistic integrity will always be the most important thing to me. There should be teamwork. A mutual agreement to find that synergetic point where the best possible story meets with the wisest financial input and gain. Sometimes you’ll lean towards the money. Sometimes you’ll lean towards the story.
Sometimes you’ll make a glorious product that doesn’t sell.
Sometimes you’ll make a mediocre one that breaks records.
And sometimes vice versa.
But it’s all a dance,
an intricate saga step,
meant to make humanity,
And just because the song may skip a beat, doesn’t mean we abandon the dance.
So when I initially saw the commercials for Onward, you could say I was woefully unimpressed, not even remotely interested. The trailers were just generic enough that the movie could go either way! And my trust levels aren’t anywhere near high enough to risk assuming that “ehhh this will probably be good.”
The movie products in children’s animation, and loosely Hollywood overall, have been more product than movie. Everyone is gunning for the blockbuster, which is the cinematic equivalent to breaking the first rule of fight club.
Then reviews started trickling in.
I still wasn’t with it.
I mean, in a landscape where Frozen II makes a billion dollars, I have no reason to believe good stories are being told.
I know money is being made, but that’s not the same thing.
Then three things happened.
Onward came to Disney+.
And it was dinner time.
In spite of everything I just said about how I felt, and what I believed, I still like to check myself from time because maybe I’m being too hard on films you know? Not saying I have to watch every single flick just to prove that they are lackluster, but conversely, if I skip them all based on the trailers, I’m only adding to the problem in a weird matrix reversal sort of way.
So I turned it on
with an open mind
and a willingness to like it.
And was hooked.
A magical fantasy in contemporary settings, a family in peril, quirky humour, character development, dedication to the core of the story, staying within the guidelines of its own established rules, practically no fat on it- my mind was blown!
All along the way I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for them to sink into that very safe and familiar Disney territory where they lower the quality because they know they can get away with it. But… it never happened. And then this is when I knew I was TRULY deep into the movie.
I forgot to analyze it.
I was so submerged in the tale they were weaving that I stopped even looking for that other shoe, let alone waiting for it to drop. There were a couple moments here and there where my instincts tensed up, but after the first half hour, I was so in.
And as if that wasn’t enough-
I actually teared up three different times.
This film had HEART. So much heart.
I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt this way about a Disney film. It’s been years. Maybe The Force Awakens? But that was for different reasons and doesn’t really count. I don’t know, to be honest, don’t really care. It was a beautiful, captivating experience that made me feel like a child again in the best of ways. And in some odd way, it’s comforting to know that Disney still has the capability to create this type of masterpiece; still has the capability to bring true wonder into the world.
Let us be perfectly clear though- Onward was not a flawless film. It was not without error. A movie without spot or blemish isn’t at all what I’m campaigning for, isn’t even something I believe in. Every story told will have problems with it somewhere, because the only perfect story is the one you don’t tell.
Onward wasn’t perfect.
But it was really, really good.
It was an incredibly good movie.
Like- called my mama when I was done,
“Yall gotta watch this!”
When companies and films do a shoddy job, I call them out on it.
But I am in no way above giving roses when they’re due.
Onward deserves an Academy Award man.
Good job, this time, Disney.
Bloody good job.
This was the good stuff.