Onward

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S2: Charlotte, great paper.

S3: What’s in the box?

S4: Yo, yo, yo.

S5: Hello and welcome to the Slate Spoiler special for Pixar’s new movie Onward. I’m Slate’s culture editor for us Wickman. And today, I’m joined in Slate’s New York studios by associate editor Marisa Martinelli. Hey, Marissa. Hi, Forest. And we’re also joined remotely by senior editor Sam Adams. Hey, Sam. Hello. So we usually start these discussions first by just briefly summarizing how we felt about the movie before we get into really spoiling it. So let’s each just give our thumbs up or thumbs down or if you only exists from the waist down just to maybe raise some toast.

S6: I would give this an upward facing toe with some caveats that we will get into. Sam, one appendage mildly thrust skyward.

S7: That sounded a little different than you might.

S8: I mean, you know, we’ll get into that. I’m sure this is what happens when you have a main character who only exists from the waist down.

S9: Yes. This is a kid’s movie, but I cannot guarantee that this discussion will be especially kid-friendly, because this movie just seems to invite all sorts of dirty readings. And I look forward to getting into that. I would put a toe up for this movie, not super enthusiastically. I think there’s a little bit of an expectations game with any Pixar movie. And I thought that as a Pixar movie, this was sort of middle of the pack at best. That reminded me of how I felt after the good dinosaur and brave. Basically, I thought, oh, if that were a DreamWorks movie, for example, I would have thought that was quite good and moving and occasionally genuinely funny. And because it so Pixar movie, I thought, oh, this was not nearly as imaginative or as lovingly animated as I typically expect from a Pixar movie. And I imagine you guys feel similarly to a lot of that.

S10: The way you phrased it makes it sound like a knock on DreamWorks, right? I don’t necessarily think DreamWorks movies are worse than Pixar movies as a whole. I think we go to DreamWorks movies expecting different things than you expect from Pixar movie. So in that respect, I agree that this was goofier.

S11: It was maybe less conceptual than we would usually expect from Pixar. And in that way, maybe it fits into more of a DreamWorks mold. And there are some specifics to it, too, like the mix of fairy tale elements with contemporary elements that are very Shrek. The sort of schlubby, lazy guy succeeding by being true to himself is very Kung Fu Panda. So, yes, in certain elements it did feel like a DreamWorks movie.

S9: Yeah, to be clear, I do not dislike DreamWorks movies. So that was a little backhanded.

S8: I mean, I think what you said is right for us in that expectations play a big role in this. Some of the reactions I’ve seen from friends and colleagues have seen already is sort of my slightly unkind reduction that is basically saying, well, this is kind of a disappointing Pixar movie because I was not completely emotionally destroyed by it. So they’ve kind of set the bar pretty high for themselves. And this is a movie about like two sons kind of getting over their dad’s death. You know, I think if you don’t expect to be just wrecked by it, you can enjoy it pretty easily without being disappointed.

S12: Yes, I was moved, if not wrecked. Okay. So we’ve started to just briefly allude to what this movie is like. I think before we get into the nitty gritty of the plot, we should sort of lay out the high concept pitch for it, which I keep thinking of as basically Shrek meets Weekend at Bernie’s, which is eventually what this movie ends up being, is this road trip comedy where they bring back the lower half of the dad.

S13: And he’s sort of a zombie. Dad, he’s kind of half there and half not in the way that Bernie has because of all of this. I’ve started thinking of this movie as the brotherhood of the traveling pants.

S14: But emch, I’ve been walking around calling this pants dad. The movie also that strikes me as a writer, but much more emotionally resonant than a title like that would suggest.

S12: So, Marissa, you started to talk about the world of this movie, which I agree is fairly Shrek, and that is how this movie starts with a big exposition dump.

S11: So as we’re introduced to this world, it is a pretty classic fairy tale world populated by elves and trolls and centers and the like, except that progress has marched on. And so we actually see a little of that happening where previously they used magic to light their homes. But then all of a sudden invention of electricity comes along. And so by the time we pick up the story, all of these fairy tale creatures are living very recognizably 21st century lives in the suburbs. They have electricity, they have workout tapes. They play fantasy tabletop games as though they’re like historical artifacts.

S5: It is a very shrinky and kind of world and at least still somewhat original, although I also found that compared to Shrek, like a lot of the jokes about fantasy that were in Shrek. Or just better than the jokes about fantasy worlds that were in this movie, certain sight gags kept catching my eye and just being a little disappointing. So, for example, at some point early on in the movie, we see a fast food restaurant and it’s called Burger Schaer. And there were a few people in our screening who laughed uproariously at details like this. And it made me just think like, am I missing the joke? Like, I get that it’s a burger joint and that it’s somewhat named after the shire from Lord of the Rings, perhaps. Similarly, there’s a gas station named Swamp Gas, which costs a lot of laughter. And it was like, I think you can do better than that. Like just thinking very briefly about this. I thought of like Hixon instead of Exxon.

S7: That would have been that if I could have just as not even clever.

S5: It’s just like if they spend more of the gentleman thinking of an actual pun rather than some sort of portmanteau name that has the form of a pun almost, but isn’t quite a pun. I don’t know. Sam, am I missing anything in Burger Shi’ah or Swamp Gas or are these fairly weak jokes?

S8: Not that I’m aware of. I kind of hate all the Shrek movies to get into that. Those movies are very like writers room heavy, like throwing jokes at the wall, like until seeing what sticks. And this is not like a joke driven movie. I mean, you’re right that those jokes are not as kind of sharp. They’re not like great like Simpson sight gags or whatever. You know, there’s a kind of like gentleness to the humor in this that I think it’s not a hip movie. There’s no attempt to be kind of like hip or cool in this. That’s sort of not really Pixar’s thing.

S15: And there is at least one good pun. I think I’m thinking of the same one as you.

S16: Is there the DDR knock-off? France, France? No.

S7: Okay, that’s pretty good. What? Because it’s like a unicorn or something? Is that Sentara? I believe S.R. okay. Yeah. Yeah, that’s pretty good. There is another one where I believe it’s a soda. That’s called Mountain Doom. Like Mount Downfrom learned the rings. Yes, I do. Yeah. Okay. Solid like that’s just kind of the bare minimum I would expect. And some of these near puns. Not quite puns. Didn’t quite meet that bare minimum anyway.

S5: So we’ve introduced the world a little bit and then we get to know this family who are the light foots.

S8: The Lightfoot’s are currently a family of three. There was a father who has passed on before. The youngest son Ian voiced by Tom Holland, got to know him at all. So we have Ian, who’s sort of shy, nerdy kid, basically not feel like he’s a Tom Holland type, like he’s a Peter Parker.

S7: Yeah, he’s timid and nervous, but he’s not necessarily like a big nerd in the traditional way that his brother is right.

S8: His elder brother, Charley, voiced by Chris Pratt, who’s sort of like a dropout type, he like kind of big like role playing game aficionado, drives around in a spray painted van. If this were a different kind of movie, he would be like permanently enveloped in a cloud of weed smoke.

S5: An actual note I have down Sam on that point is just Seth Rogen wasn’t available because he’s exactly that type of stoner manchild.

S17: This is kind of a Chris Pratt role, just not Chris Pratt. Now, this isn’t rare. Chris Pratt Circa Parks and Rec.

S8: Yeah, it’s very Andy Dwyer s. It’s also I saw some people saying like that Jack Black should fire his agent for not having gotten him this role because he is also like a big, like metal head. But then you also have their mom, Laurel, who’s voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her boyfriend, who’s a police officer named Colt Broncho, who, as you might gather from that, as a centaur voiced by Mel Rodrigo’s. I guess we should see the light footsore all. I believe elves, although I’m not sure that’s explicitly stated. But they got the ears so we can infer.

S5: Yeah, they have pointy ears. And then sort of vaguely very light blue skin.

S12: I mean, this might be a good time to just briefly talk about the sort of racial diversity of this world, which is really interesting because it is at once a world in which race, in the sense that people talk about it in our world, does not exist.

S5: And yet the cast is very diverse and the characters in blue skin or whatever the color of their skin are like somewhat racialized, like the texture of their hair is particular to who might be voicing them, which I thought was pretty interesting and mostly pretty successful.

S8: That’s a good way of putting it, of course. I mean, this is a world in which you can’t sort of judge and they’re not even in people but you characters by the color of their skin because it’s know blue or purple. There is like a character called the Manticore voiced by Octavia Spencer, who, as you mentioned, has black hair, you know it, and is voiced by Octavia Spencer. So you have that element. So they get around the idea that which like even The Hobbit movies have been criticized for, that this is somehow a fantasy world in which all these magical creatures exist. And yet somehow everybody has to be white for some reason, despite the fact that these characters aren’t human and therefore don’t have race as we understand it. They don’t just default to assuming that means everybody’s gonna be white.

S12: Okay. So we should talk about. The absence fourth member of the family that we keep sort of alluding to. So it’s this father who we hear that he, quote, got sick and that he fought hard.

S5: And I kind of just filled in cancer, though I’m not sure they ever provide a specific illness.

S14: He’s also, I believe, hooked up to tubes, which also there’s definitely some sort of long, slow burning illness involved.

S12: There’s a pretty sad scene early on in this movie. And we haven’t talked about how this movie is directed by Dan Scanlon, who previously had done Monsters University and some other stuff for Pixar. And this movie in a way that I find pretty moving is based partly on his own experience.

S18: So his dad died when he was a year old. There’s a story about how one of the only remnants of his dad that he has is a tape recording. And so in this movie, you get one of the most effective scenes in the movie for me, which is when in the Tom Holland character sort of stages a conversation with his dad via just an old tape recording and sort of pretends like he is talking with him.

S5: We’ve all said we were choked up. Were you guys crying or rolling your eyes?

S14: I was confused. And I’m embarrassed to admit that. Who was he talking to in this tape? What was he recording? That part I found so distracting that I actually did not appreciate the scene for its full emotional resonance, although it was a nice scene. The way the tape plays the first time and you only hear the dad talking to someone else or the mom someone far away, and then you get the second round where it’s as though he is talking to his father.

S19: That part I got. I just did not understand. Is he fixing the tape recorder? Someone, please enlighten me.

S8: Yeah, I think he’s just doing like a mike check, basically, like he’s, you know, seeing if it works and then leaving it running. Well, he has this conversation with his wife in the other room who, you know, you can’t really hear it. That allows in Tom Holland’s character kind of jump in the second time around replaying the tape and kind of invent this conversation.

S14: The other thing that really made this scene not quite work for me is we already had several scenes where we see Ian going about his daily life. It’s his birthday interacting with his mom, interacting with his brother. But kind of everything is about his dad. So like he has a scene early on where he’s talking about his dad. He goes to get breakfast at a fast food restaurant. He runs in to his dad’s old college friend. It just was very like I don’t feel that we needed quite that much to hammer home.

S19: Like his dad is dead. His dad is missing. His dad’s absence overshadows everything in his life. The tape recorder seeing if that had been the clincher. If that had not come after so many other instances of that, I think would have been more effective for me.

S12: Yeah. That’s a fair point. And in fact, one of the things I read about Dan Scanlon and his dad is that part of the inspiration for the movie was that somebody had like asked him about, you know, had anything sad ever happened in his life or something.

S5: And he just said no. And tell his mom, reminded him, oh, well, your dad died. And he said, well, that wasn’t sad for me because I never knew him.

S15: And so it seems that in the case of the actual story that this is based on, that Dan Scanlon wasn’t thinking constantly about his dad, dad. And it might be true that it it’s just like ringing a little false. OK. So, Marissa, you mentioned it’s a 16th birthday and we have to get to bringing the dad back. So, Sam, what does he get for his 16th birthday and how does this happen?

S8: Well, the dad, as you mentioned, had this kind of prolonged illness, whatever it was, and that left him enough time to kind of prepare some things for after his death. So he left this mysterious package to be unwrapped when both his sons were over 16 and he in turn 16. He gets his package and opens it up. And it is basically they quickly figured out is a spell for bringing back their father for a day. So it is not actually like a real resurrection. I think is the idea. But it sort of was going to bring back his essence or his spirit. They don’t exactly say what, but. Yes, but they will have him back from setup to sundown for a day. And this is the end. You know, first and only chance to get to know this father that he’s essentially never met.

S18: Right. And we should say, just because it will be important later that in the Tom Hallen character starts making this list of all of the things he wants to do with the dad during the one day they will finally get to spend together and includes things like playing catch and maybe having a heart to heart.

S13: And I don’t remember the others exactly, but ends on share my life with him. Yes. So we’ll get to that later. But in the meantime, so they try to bring the dad back. And what happens? Martha?

S16: Nothing. It does not work. And even though Barley believes with all his heart that it must, he is unable to bring their father back. However, it turns out that maybe the magic touch was just that Ian needed to do it, because when he picks up the staff, he is able to bring their father back, kind of. There is a a scene where all the objects in the room lift up and there is a glow, but something goes wrong and out of the closet emerges. Well, there’s really just no other way to say it.

S5: A pair of legs with no top half pants, dad, pair of legs and feet and a pelvis, everything from the belts down.

S14: The movie made a real effort. And I found this a little convenient to really give this father multiple distinguishing traits below the waist. So we learned that he used to always wear purple socks. Yeah. And so this pair of disembodied pants also has shoes and and purple socks and then also barley used to tap on his dad’s shoes.

S16: Kind of like a shave and the haircut like Dunton and then Dunton. So when he does that on this pants, dad’s feet, pants, dad response like, oh, it’s dad, part of him is just missing.

S13: Yes. There are lots of loving foot caresses in this movie in a way that is occasionally kind of funny and occasionally kind of moving and often somewhere in between. And this uncanny valley between those two things.

S16: I mean, literally, there’s an uncanny valley in that there’s nothing like distinguishing the top of these pants between the void above.

S15: So like there’s like a vague blue glow, just a glove making from the bottom. Marissa is pants, dad hot pants, dad hot.

S14: These are the questions that keep me up at night as just pants. I would say no, although I will say like it raises some uncomfortable questions. For example, in some scenes there is a noticeable kind of bulge.

S12: I will say I did not notice the bulge, but I believe you nonetheless.

S20: I mean, he’s a butt and legs walking around. And I did notice the butt. It’s a nice. But they have to lead him around. And often that means like guiding him and he’s just legs. It’s very uncomfortable. I don’t think he’s had at that point.

S17: I think he’s very hot in the photos that we see of him. He’s like a blue John Krasinski type.

S12: Very much a John Brezinski type. He’s got like a neatly trimmed beard. He’s like in pretty good shape, it seems. He’s a birder. It seems we see him with binoculars. Anyway, we’ve talked enough about pants, dad, for now. So this is where we basically start. The quest part of the movie is how it’s framed. It’s really like a buddy road trip comedy. So they only bring him back from the waist down and to be able to complete the transformation so that they can bring back all of him they need. Basically, it’s like an infinity. Down. What did they call it, the Phoenix jam or something?

S17: That sounds right. But it truly doesn’t matter.

S12: Yeah, it’s just a magoffin which sets them on this quest. And they have, as in any quest, a series of trials. I think we can breeze through these pretty quickly, though. The first one is pretty good, which is that they have to go see the Manticore. Sam, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the Manticore?

S8: Well, Manticore, as I mentioned briefly before, is played by Octavia Spencer. And this is, you know, in classic Manticore fashion, Barley knows from his experience with Role-Playing Games, which I think like the best running gag in the movie. He just keeps insisting that they’re, you know, historically accurate and that they’re having played this like very Dungeons and Dragons like game. He is actually that expert and what really needs to be done. But it turns out to actually be the case that the things he’s learned from the game are correct. So you do have to go see the Manticore, who is supposed to be this, you know, fearsome, slavering beast with, you know, fangs and a sword. But because this is no longer a world in which magic carries a lot of weight. She has since opened a fast food restaurant and is now just kind of a harried proprietress of this establishment.

S5: Right. In fact, she’s just known as Corey. Did you guys know the Manticore is a real thing? I had no idea. Like, I thought it was just some made up word that was supposed to sound kind of like Minotaur. And she’s like a little bit of a Griffin to.

S16: Now, New Mexico is, I think a lot of the jokes rely on knowing that the Manticore is not a real thing, but an established mythological creature didn’t even like the gelatinous cube that comes up a lot of times is sort of a famous Dungeons and Dragons adversary.

S8: Again, not a real thing, but like a pre-existing element like us.

S12: Right. There is a way in which certain aspects of it will be more appreciated by people who are deeply familiar with Dungeons and Dragons. And I mean, I’m pretty familiar with Lord of the Rings, and I feel like there’s about two additional jokes that I picked up on because of that. OK. So they briefly team up with the manta core, but end up splitting up and they figure out there that they need to head next to what this is just like some other place.

S8: Well, they need to go to braveness point. The idea is that the Manticore has this like map. They will tell them this place they need to go. They accidently you start a fire in her restaurant. The map burns up. But they have this sort of children’s menu version of the map that they retrieve. And it’s also somehow related to the real thing. So this tells them they need to go to a place called ravens’ Point, which is a mountain where they’re going to retrieve this gem. Ian wants to do it and he’s in a rush. He wants to take the most direct path there. But Barley insists that as an expert in quests, he knows that the right way to go is never the most direct way. That’s always ends up being an illusion. So you need to kind of take. I think he calls it the path of peril, which is sort of just a way of extending their trip, but also setting up this conflict between the brothers where barley is kind of the loser drop-out, but also has this special knowledge that no one takes seriously but turns out to be useful.

S15: Right. So they head out and first they’re not taking the path of peril. They’re just taking like the highway. And I guess the next real trial they face is the fairies. Yeah.

S17: I thought the fairies were an interesting instance of sort of different bodies in this shared world. And they have almost a toy story kind of moment where they all glommed together to either to lift each other or to get through the door in a way that I found interesting. I mean, even in the same way that this movie makes an effort to be racially diverse, even though it is a fantasy and everyone is like quite literally, like, I don’t care what your skin color is, blue, purple. But that is actually the case. It also makes an effort to be inclusive in the background. At one point at Ian’s high school, there is a troll or an ogre who has crutches. It’s such a small detail, but in animation it’s just rare to see that. And then you also have to think about like how would these pixie sprites get around in a world that is created for people who are much larger than them? And to an extent. I was also thinking about this with Pants Dad as they were leading him around, because in a lot of ways he’s deaf, blind. He can’t communicate. He can’t hear. He can’t see. He can only verbally, I should say, because they do find ways to, you know, tap on his feet and stuff like that. But from that perspective, this is actually really interesting as an exercise. And I was looking until a ways to communicate. And there are forms of sign language that involve your feet. So just in that respect, it was fun to see how that played out.

S5: Right. And so it’s also around this part of the movie that we get to, the thing that we were actually all talking the most about right after this movie screened. And as the embargo was lifting, which is, of course, the exclusively gay moments. Sam, you’ve written about this. Why don’t you just lay out a little bit of what the AGM is and why it is the first successful exclusively gay moment?

S8: Sure. Well, there’s a moment where Bali and Ian are on the road in their van. They are driving radically. I think they’ve just had some confrontation with the Pixies, who in this version are kind of like mean tiny pink biker chicks. So they sort of swerving all over the road. They get pulled over by these two police officers. One of them steps out of the car and starts talking to them. This one’s voiced by Lina Waysthe and I was sort of busy sitting there watching her and her partners voiced by Ali Whang. And I was sitting there thinking just, oh, this is interesting. Like they’ve actually just had this very standard like encounter with the cops trope. But but the cops are women of color and that sort of like interesting. So an added complication to this encounter is that it has been kind of learning to cast spells all along. So he is, in this case, casting kind of an illusion spell that makes him look like their mother’s boyfriend, Colt Broncho, who is this police officer to make this encounter go more quickly? So he starts talking to them about, oh, man, my girlfriend’s kids are like, you know, it’s such a pain in the butt. They’re making my life so hard. And Lena Waites character says, yeah, you know, my girlfriend’s kids are give me a lot of trouble, too. And you just go, oh, like. And then they just go on with the rest of the encounter. You know, she lets them go, but has her suspicions. The police follow them, yadda, yadda, yadda. So it is very. You know, casual passing moment, but in the context of especially a Pixar movie where there’s been, you know, this real kind of quest to find, you know, definitively gay characters in their movies. You know, to the extent that people will like, you know, screen shotting like. There’s a split second shot of two women next to each other in finding Dory. And one of them has short hair and a baby. And people like, is this the first lesbian family in a Pixar movie? So, you know, in the context of just wanting that sort of representation, this movie, this is not something you need to decode or something that’s like a little wink. It’s just straight up. Like this is a police officer who is a woman and has a girlfriend and that girlfriend has a child. And it’s just like comes out the way what kind of normal conversation in the movie moves on with it? You know, and the matter of fact, Nyst is kind of the thing that was like striking to me because it’s not this big trumpets and fanfare moment. It’s not something that Pixar told everybody about six months in advance and built up, which is what a lot of that true of other Disney studios have done with these things. And then they started doing it with Beauty and the Beast, which is where this sort of notorious phrase exclusively gay moment comes from. And then you inevitably get to the thing. And because it’s sort of coir coded or whatever, you just do that. That’s it. Like that’s that’s what we’re supposed to, you know, be grateful for this or something. And Pixar just kind of like let it happen in this movie. And I’m sure they knew that people would pick up on it and write about it as we did. But they didn’t, you know, sort of throw themselves a parade in advance, I guess. So I think that was a much more effective way to approach it.

S10: I agree that the best thing they did was shut up about it, because if they had hype that in advance, there would have been a lot of eye-rolling as far as quote unquote exclusively gay moments go. I agree this was probably one of the better ones. But I will say that this may be new for Pixar, but other animated movies have been doing this for a long time. ParaNorman has a explicitly gay character who you find out at the end of the movie, and it’s a little bit of a punchline. Not that he’s gay, but just that another character did know he was gay. The How to Train Your Dragon movies did this with Gabber. I found this underwhelming in that it was very easily censored in other countries. It wasn’t woven into the movie the way intentionally or otherwise, race and disability where it literally is a moment and it’s so short that you could literally mess it, which is what happened to me.

S5: I just totally missed it. Everybody else that I saw the movie with had noticed that and I just did it.

S8: It’s partly a function of the fact that this is, you know, in some ways this big sprawling like Quest movie with, you know, like lots of travel and locations and things. But it’s also like an incredibly cloistered in a weird way. Like, you know, I was stick around for the Innova animated movies to see the voice cast because there are always people whose voices they recognize but can’t place. And it’s like half a screen at most. I think there’s like maybe 10 speaking, significant speaking parts in the entire movie. Who really narrowly focused mostly on the two boys a little bit on the Manticore and their mom, who have a sort of separate quest to to catch up with them. And then there really aren’t a lot of other characters who have more than one scene in the movie. So there’s very little character development of anyone else, including little with Scott.

S18: This struck me as a pretty tightly for the most part. I could come up with exceptions, but for the most part a pretty tightly plotted movie in a way that I didn’t even fully realize until the end of the movie when it basically all comes together pretty quickly. I guess we haven’t finished off like ticking off all the trials. Like there is one that’s essentially the leap of faith sequence from Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, where he has to take a step out into a void, trusting that there will be a platform there. But it it will only be there if he believes that’s there. And that was a fine gag, if a fairly familiar one, of course, that’s played more comedically.

S14: But that’s important throughout, because each of these little episodic adventures they have involve in learning to use magic because he has the gift, which Bali doesn’t have, but he has the knowledge. And so all of the spells that he learns have a lesson associated with them, whether it’s you have to believe to make it true or you have to speak from the heart that all coalesce at the end. And he has to put all of them to use that once. So even the little side adventures do eventually come together. I think this was a pretty tightly plotted movie. As someone who has no patience for animated movies that are bloated for no reason, with the exception of the early sequence where it was like, let’s have three different scenes about Ian’s dad.

S13: Right? Right. Like, did they really need the scene where they tried to bring the dad back and he doesn’t come back at all before the scene where they again try to bring the dad back and only the bottom half of him comes back.

S16: That was not necessary, but it did separate them from their mom, who I would love to talk more about because she spends. This movie chasing after them and I left this movie thinking like this is the story of a hardworking mother and her ungrateful sons. She does so much for them. They just run off with their half dad without her. She has to go from place to place cleaning up after them. Her new boyfriend is a police officer and she has him out looking for them. She’s worried sick. She’s spent so many years raising them alone. She watched the love of her life die. And yet she’s very much reduced to this like background character.

S13: It’s very much like the dad foot taps his sons and thereby is the world’s greatest dad. Whereas we don’t even think about it all the things that the mom is doing all the time. Just for Laurel, that becomes the big plot, which ends up just being her and the Manticore team operate, and it becomes its own sort of buddy road trip comedy in the Bechtel Test Mobile. All right.

S8: It is the part of the movie that kind of feels a little bit under baok to me. I mean, I enjoy like the reporter between Octavia Spencer and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is like pretty fun. I mean, I would very much like watch a movie about the two of them. And I think in a weird way, like the mantra Korra has a better character arc than the mom does. Both cases it becomes about, you know, these are women who have sort of settled into these like middle management, like professional career and sort of just. I don’t think we ever find out what the mom does besides being a mom, but that’s basically the sum of her character. They kind of rediscover their there’s a little like women who run to the wolves thing where they kind of rediscover their inner warrior. Then the Manticore goes back to like, you know, wielding a sword and literally, you know, fighting dragons. It’s a nice, like little element to it, but it does feel like tacked on in a lot of ways.

S5: And perhaps not a coincidence that in addition to the director being a man, he is one of the co-writers. On the other two co-writers are also both men.

S8: So, yeah, so the brothers have been making their way to this place called ravens’ Point, which based on the map they have assumed is this mountain that they need to reach to retrieve the gem. And after that, the leap of faith. Partha you mentioned forest where they have to cross this ravine one step at a time over this invisible bridge that he’s kind of creating himself. They can’t see. They realize that in fact they’re not heading toward this mountain called ravens’ Point. They are going to be following a bunch of large stone statues of Ray-Bans that are pointing. And that leads them to the gem. So it is only because they have taken this circuitous route that Barley’s suggested. And after having a fight about where we’re at a pace that comes out, that you realize that the little brother thinks his older brother is kind of a loser, that is kind of vindicated in his, you know, silly roleplaying ideas that, in fact, they didn’t need to take this Butoh securities route in order to find these pointing. Rayburn’s not head to the mountain where the gem would not have been. So he’s kind of you vindicated in that sense. And that kind of brings the brothers together in a way that I think that is really the purpose of the whole road trip and the movie is to kind of work on their relationship. It’s really a movie about the relationship between these brothers and the father is in some ways kind of the biggest McGuffin of all.

S5: So they start to come together and to triumph. But it’s it’s kind of a false cadence because the Phoenix Stone or whatever it’s called, is not there. And the sun is close to going down. Right.

S17: They go to the final stop on their journey and then it turns out to be their high school. And Ian kind of gives up and is angry with Bali like, oh, we just are right back where we started. It was a waste of time that Bali has been established as this kind of preservationist of old.

S11: In this case, historical fantastic artifacts. And they’re doing construction. And so he actually blanches himself at the fountain that they’re planning. I think it’s a fountain that they’re planning to tear down because that is the location of the Phoenix gem.

S5: And then it’s around this time that the school mascot who is painted on the side of a building and is what a dragon, a very goofy looking dragon comes to, like smile.

S7: This is one of the better and more imaginative parts of the movie, I think, in the sense that it has this very big goofy smile.

S18: It like it reminded me of the stay fluffed marshmallow man from Ghostbusters, where it’s at once a very hilariously goofy looking thing and this very imposing villain. And then this is also when Laurel and the Manticore end up back at the school. And so everything’s sort of coming together. And it may be a little hard to sort out how everything happens at once.

S8: So after going on, which seems to be this wild goose chase and ending up literally right back where they started at their school, Barley realizes that this sort of old fountain that he’s been working to preserve because they’re constantly tearing down artifacts, the old magical world, in order to build convenience stores or whatever. He realizes this has in fact, been housing the Phoenix gem the whole time. So he retrieves it. But their encounter with the Manticore, who set him on his quest in the first place, ended before the mint. Or remember to tell them them that there is a curse on the gym and that if you retrieve it in the wrong way, which he does, Dragon will spring to life to defend it. So the dragon comes together out of the school wall. It’s sort of like pulls itself together, Voltron style out of, you know, little chunks of concrete and stuff pulled out from the ground. But then the four of them have to do battle against it in order to retrieve the gem before the sun goes down.

S17: And in the course of the battle, Ian is faced basically with a choice.

S10: I mean, his mom springs into action and says her line from her aerobics tape. You know that she is a warrior and a mighty, mighty warrior.

S14: And she and the Manticore fight the dragon so that Ian and Barley can go meet their father, which is a pretty big sacrifice for her to make.

S19: I mean, this is the man she was married to who died tragically. You’d think maybe she’d want to say hey. But then when they’re getting right down to it, Ian realizes that he and his brother can’t both see their father.

S14: One of them needs to hold off the dragon, and he makes the sacrifice to let Bali go. Say goodbye, because when Bali was little, he didn’t say goodbye to his dad because he was too afraid of the tubes in the hospital setting. And we don’t actually get to see the encounter between Bali and his father, which I think was very, very smart. Yeah. Leaving us in Ian’s perspective, looking from the outside. And when we do hear what happened between them later, it’s very banal. It’s a mundane conversation they had about what their dad’s was, their name would have been. And it’s kind of lame and it’s more the gesture and the beauty of the moment that matters rather than the actual content of the scene.

S5: This is the one part of this whole climax that I really remembered well, because it was executed so well, partly by withholding the conversation between Bali and the dad, which also has a point. Right. Like we’re staying with Ian and we’re with him when he doesn’t get to see the dad, but instead what he gets. And this is the thing we’ve been sort of tiptoeing around this whole discussion is it’s around this time that he looks over his checklist of things that he wanted to do with his dad and realizes one by one.

S18: And we kind of pull up clips that he’s remembering of all the things that they’ve been doing over the day and ultimately over the course of their lives. He realizes that basically instead of having his dad, he’s been learning all of these things from his older brother. And so when Bali returns and tells him, I never had a dad, but I always had you.

S13: Which is the big tear jerking moment. Reza, I can see you getting a little misty in the eyes.

S20: That’s not miss. That’s slight in a way.

S5: It’s because you think the mom got the.

S20: Movie later takes over the mom we see from the very beginning of the movie.

S14: She’s planning her son’s birthday. She’s telling him to get out there and learn how to drive, which he’s afraid of. And some of the elements on his checklist are gendered like playing catch. But the last one is share my life with you.

S16: And just to, like, toss off, it’s like the trope in movies and TV shows where like a dad dies or is leaving and tells his like child, son, you are the man of the house. Now take care of your mother. It’s very much that to the point where the movie actually ends on a shot of the family and zooms in so that the mom is cut out of the frame.

S20: And it’s just the two brothers in a way that really rubs me the wrong way.

S9: Sam, did you feel more like Marissa and this, or were you a man who was unmindful of all of this stuff and just totally caught up in the moment? Like I confess, I was a little bit Sam.

S17: Dad, splain this to me, please.

S8: There is that question. That moment really worked for me, actually. And partly it was because one of the things I appreciate about Pixar movies is I feel like there’s just a high level of craft in the writing, like in this movie that you can feel sort of pretty mechanical. There are things like, you know, like the list that you were just talking about for us that that feel just kind of like structural gimmicks and don’t have the emotional punch that are intended to like you feel like you’re watching the scaffolding of a good movie rather than it actually good movie. But I feel like the reveal that in fact, the movie has been about these brothers coming together all along was like pretty powerful for me. One of Barley’s mottos along the way, he’s something he’s learned from his role playing games is that the rule of a quest is that you have to use what you have, you know. So if you don’t happen to have, you know, the proper wizard staff or a sword or read ever, you have what you need and you just may not know it. And that pays off kind of an emotional terms in the end. You know, it been a movie about how much the son feels like he needs the dad that he never had. And as a result of that, he is he’s been so focused on that that he is not sort of realized that, in fact, this the important male figure in his life is already there and has been there all along. And he just sort of. Hasn’t appreciated it until now, and I think that take on Unus, but you have you know, that we just life deals us the hand they were dealt. And we may not have, you know, as many parents or the figures in our lives that we want to. But if you look at what’s actually in front of you, you can make something of it. I agree that. I mean, it’s clearly like, you know, the mom does not figure in that calculus particularly strongly. I think that that’s fair criticism. But I think the idea that that is ultimately kind of not that important, that it’s been about this other thing that you may not have even kind of keyed into at that point, I think is is a nice twist.

S18: You’re basically both right here. They did not think enough about the mother, but they did think a lot about the themes of this movie and how to work them into the plot and so on. To the extent that if you were a child rewatching this movie as you were growing up, or perhaps a parent who was forced to rewatch this movie over and over again as your child’s kept putting it on again and again, there would be some things, at least the first, you know, two or so times that you might pick up on that you didn’t pick up on before.

S5: So this is pretty good, I hope. Soul, which is Pixar’s other original movie that’s about death that is also coming out in June, is weirder and riskier and better. But I still liked this. And I hope when soul comes out, you guys will both talk about that one with me, too.

S6: Definitely. Let’s do it. All right. Thanks, Marisa. Thanks for us. Thanks. Thank you.

S21: That’s our show. Please subscribe to the slate for the special podcast Feed. And if you like the show, write and review it in the Apple podcast store or wherever you get your podcasts. If you have suggestions for movies or TV shows that we should spoil or if you have any other feedback you’d like to share it, send it to spoilers at Slate dot com. Our audio engineer is Merrett Jacob and our producer is Rosemary Bellson for Sam Adams. Sam Martinelli, M4s Wickman. Thanks for listening.