Pixar’s latest offering, “Onward,” is more than just your normal magical animated film; it’s a touching tale of brotherly love that deals with grief, learning to believe in yourself, and the awkwardness of your teenage years. Directed by Dan Scanlon, who previously worked on “Monsters University” (2013) for the studio, the movie feels both cleverly unique and markedly Pixar. “Onward” is the story of brothers Ian and Barley, elves who live in a world in which modern technology has replaced magic long ago. It resembles our normal world, but populated by magical creatures from sprites to cyclops. While older brother Barley is obsessed with the magical past and the game Quests of Yore, Ian is just trying to celebrate his 16th birthday and not make a fool of himself in front of his classmates. When a special birthday gift offers Ian the chance to meet the father who passed away while he was still a baby, the two must go on a real quest of their own.
We often associate the “male gaze” in cinema to how female sexuality is portrayed, but I would argue that it exists when it comes to modern military movies, as well. This is one of the thoughts that found itself moving through my brain rewatching Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” There is a jingoistic, action-driven version of this or “The Hurt Locker,” Bigelow’s Oscar-winning drama about bomb diffusers in Iraq, that could be made by a Michael Bay or Peter Berg. It would have been empty thrills compared to the contemplative work Bigelow does in both films.