29 May 2009 | DonFishies
Imaginative, fun and moving - as close to perfect as Pixar has ever been
Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner) has lived a long life, but dreams of adventuring to South America. He wants to spend his remaining days in his home, but new high-rises are being constructed around it. After a chance accident, Carl loses his home, and is set to be taken into a retirement home. Unhappy with this idea, the former balloon salesman ties thousands of balloons to his house and simply floats away, en route to his dream adventure. Except, he is not alone – young "wilderness explorer" Russell (Jordan Nagai) inadvertently shows up in mid-air, and Carl sees no other choice but to bring the boy with him.
The fact that this plot line is even relevant enough to get made into a movie is more than enough reason to praise Up. Ever since Toy Story, Pixar has consistently delivered the most radically original and unique ideas for animated films, and live action films. Sure, not all of them are as amazing as others (Cars is quite simply stale compared to the likes of Ratatouille and WALL-E), but there is something brilliantly imaginative and exciting going on at the studio, and Up is no exception.
Coming off the breakthrough of WALL-E, I was not expecting the same reaction to Up, but I was more than just pleasantly surprised. The film is hilarious, heartfelt, moving and depressing all at once. This may sound like it is an issue, and that the film has a problem holding its ground with its tonal structure. But instead, it handles it quite well; splitting the film into quadrants and allowing the themes and plot line to coincide with whatever emotional response the filmmakers are going for. And while there is plenty for young children to enjoy and take from the film, it is the older audience that will get the biggest reaction from it. There is a lot going on in the film, but it never loses its speed and never loses control of what it wants to say and do. It knows exactly where it wants to be and when. And where other recent Pixar films have failed (specifically in their lengthy runtimes and frequent need to drag themselves out), Up does not. It practically blasts its way through its beginning, all the way up to its ending, with time left to spare.
What makes Up work so well, much like WALL-E before it, is the focus on very few characters. Where WALL-E spent the majority of its runtime primarily on Earth with its main character, a love interest and a cockroach, Up spends its majority with Carl, Russell, a "bird" named Kevin and a talking dog named Dug (voiced by co-director Bob Peterson). It does allow for more characters to enter in later on, but the focus never strays from these main characters. Some may say the film is trying to tell multiple stories, but as the film progresses, it is clear it is telling one story – the tale of a man who never experienced what he wanted the most. The film builds up Carl's backstory heavily in startlingly moving moments that surprisingly were surprisingly kept rather secretive in the marketing for the film. We know from the very first trailer that Carl is a fairly mean old man, but the film spends a great deal of time to develop him into an emotional wreck of a man.
But the real success of the film is in its imagination and adventure. While WALL-E is perhaps the most startlingly unique and original animated picture of the last decade, Up still manages to pack in a lot of uniqueness. But while WALL-E got caught up in its own environmentally sound message, Up sticks with being an almost straight adventure picture. It is frequently thrilling and exciting, and lets up only for a few moments at a time. For such an older character, the film really stuns with some of its fantastical ideas. Sure, it is obvious this is a film that could only ever be done as an animated film, but what it lacks in realism it makes up for in fun – something that has been sorely missing from the movies for years. It came back for a short while with the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, but the focus as of late for any film has been on deeply conflicted, depressing narratives. And while this film is struck with having some of the most depressing scenes the year has seen so far, it never wallows in the sadness. It throws the moments at you, and then quickly moves on. And as said previously, the tonal shifts work excellently in Up's favour.
But of course, an animated movie cannot work without its animation. While Up is not a breakthrough in the way other Pixar films have been, it keeps with the tradition of still looking stunning and leading the curve for computer animated films. It does look cartoony and fantastical in many instances, but this only continues to work towards it being even better. The locales are realistic looking; the dog fur is near perfect. For me, watching Carl's facial hair gradually grow in as the story moves along was simply amazing. The little details and minute perfections have always been key to the Pixar films, and Up is no different. Additionally, the 3D effects really add a layer to the film, and bring the movie to life (unlike other recent efforts like Monsters vs. Aliens and Bolt).
I cannot praise Up enough. Words cannot do justice for how excellent the film is. Pixar continues to outdo itself year after year, even with their subpar films. While each film has their own flaws, Up revels in being as close to perfect as the company has been in years. I adored every minute, and look forward to watching it again with an even bigger smile on my face.