Pop culture has come a long way since “Father Knows Best.”
That sitcom title alone would trigger Woke Nation now. Modern fathers are often depicted as either boobs (“The Simpsons,” “Family Guy”) or just plain unnecessary in pop culture.
Consider “Onward” a massive course correction.
Pixar’s latest follows two brothers seeking a magical reunion with their long-lost Dad.
The story, starring Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as the voices of Ian and Barley, isn’t perfect. The world-building nature of the film springs some leaks, too. These quasi-elves live in a world where the magic of the past is no more.
Or is it?
“Onward” often feels gimmicky, like a conventional animated film from another, lesser studio. Pixar’s penchant for excellence is its brand, and it teeters a time or two during “Onward.”
That wobbly storytelling doesn’t last long, though. And the third act, a joyous amalgam of themes teased in the initial hour, falls beautifully in line with previous Pixar gems.
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Holland’s performance is exactly what you’d expect – sweet, vulnerable and daffy in the right places. It’s Pratt who surprises. He’s a hunky movie star but hardly one you expect to dazzle with his line readings.
That’s precisely what happens here. He’s all positive energy, a force of nature who propels both his reluctant brother and the story itself along by sheer force of will.
Some sublime comedy ensues, including a killer bridge sequence and funny riffs on our chain restaurant age.
Still, it’s the family connection that matters most in “Onward.” Fatherhood isn’t a buzz phrase or a n antiquated concept in our “enlightened” age. Pixar reminds us of that with a fizzy blend of zeroes and ones.
Quick, hide the children (and Social Justice Warriors!). It’s another fact-based story of a white racist who has a change of heart.
Some deride this unexpected sub-genre, but its consistency can’t be denied. “Green Book” rightfully earned that Best Picture Oscar. Last year’s “The Best of Enemies” deserved a better box office embrace.
“Burden” offers more reasons to cheer these stories, above and beyond the universal zest for redemption.
Garrett Hedlund plays Mike Burden, a man who grew up immersed in Klan culture. He’s a simple soul taught to hate from an early age, but a young woman (Andrea Riseborough) suggests another path.
What follows is both formulaic and affecting, partly due to Hedlund’s naked performance. He’s a collection of tics and shrugs, someone wildly unsure of his own persona. That alone is fascinating to watch, but it’s the rhythm created by his fellow players that makes “Burden” mesmerizing.
Forest Whitaker adds gravitas and grace as a local preacher willing to give Mike a second chance. It’s a wildly unpopular choice. Why give this broken fool any grace at all?
Let love be the weapon to fight for unity. Check out this featurette with Academy-Award winner @ForestWhitaker, Garrett Hedlund, and Andrea Riseborough. #BurdenMovie expands to additional cities this weekend! Get your tickets today: https://t.co/DMwMA7C48W pic.twitter.com/k00Ajw0bYe
— Burden Movie (@burdenmovie) March 5, 2020
“Burden” doesn’t shy away from tough questions. Nor does it deliver the kind of feel-good bromides meant to assuage our country’s racist past.
The most challenging scenes happen early in the film. We watch Mike lend a hand to his future flame, the kind of meet-cute shtick Hollywood can’t stop delivering.
We don’t know yet the kind of man Mike really is, or the venom his family feels for anyone “different” from them.
It’s a bold creative choice from writer/director Andrew Heckler, but it’s one reason why “Burden” tracks a familiar course but offers fresh insights at every turn.