Up/ dir. Pete Docter/ co. dir. Bob Peterson/ 2009
I don’t how Pixar does it, but they keep churning out quality movies one after the other. It’s an animation studio dynasty. It’s kind of like in the 90’s when Disney could do no wrong and churned out hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, Aladdin, & The Lion King. It’s a new golden age of feature animation, and plenty of us are just enjoying the ride. Eventually this ride is going to end. Odds are against the Pixar folks that they’ll make a clunker of a movie one day. However, Up will not be that clunker (and with my luck, the clunker will be if/when I work there =P).
Up tells the story of Carl Fredrickson, a bitter elderly man. After being forced to give up his home and head to a retirement home, Carl decides to finally act on a lifelong dream that he and his late wife Ellie had of adventuring to Paradise Falls in South America. Carl ties thousands and thousands of balloons to his house in order to fly away and head towards South America.
The premise doesn’t sound like much, but the execution of the storytelling, combined with the emotion and sincerity of the characters come together to make yet another Pixar masterpiece. (Hit the jump for the rest of the review)
Just like Wall-E, Docter, Peterson and co. take an unconventional approach with the first 20 minutes of Up. In the first 20 minutes of Up we see the first encounter between Carl and Ellie. We see them get married, buy a house, etc.. We basically see their whole life together up until Ellie’s passing, and I was captivated to the screen the whole time. While I still would rank Wall-E‘s no dialogue first act as the better of the two unconventional methods, the first 20 minutes of Up is right up there in terms of storytelling and emotional content. Much like Wall-E and Eve, or Koyuki & Maho, I was emotionally invested in Carl & Ellie, and Ellie was only in the film for the first 20 minutes!
As for the rest of the plot and story, it is a fine piece of adventure and action. The moments that are intended to be funny are hilarious, as jokes are smart enough for both the adult and children audience to enjoy, and unlike Monsters v. Aliens they always seem to hit their mark and aren’t reliant on pop culture references. Littered throughout the movie are serious/ reflective moments so powerful that the entire theatre was silent save for some tears shed here and there. These were my favorite parts of the movie, I especially enjoyed the very, VERY subtle dig against gentrification early on in the film. And the many analogies one can come up with especially when Carl is tied to his house defines the many levels this film can be enjoyed at.
Of course, eventually Up devolves into action-packed, fast paced adventure movie/ animation cliche, complete with the villain falling to his demise (a la the aforementioned 90’s Disney movies), and a happy ending. But you know what… I didn’t mind any of that. I was entertained throughout the whole movie and in my opinion, the the flow and pacing was much better than Wall-E. It made sense how they got to the last few sequences. Looking back, Pixar knows it’s target demopgraphic and the way it played out is probably how it should end.
The animation, as always, is top-notch. The characters move fluidly and their acting is spot on. Russel is believable as the little wilderness kid, Carl has that bitter elderly man mannerism to him, and even the dogs are animated beautfully. (Aside from the opening act, them dogs are probably my 2nd favorite thing). The colors really pop out and make sense for this film, and everything is staged wonderfully. As for the 3D, my stance hasn’t changed all that much since the last few times. The 3D IS an experience in this movie, but not sure how much it actually adds to the depth of the film.
One last note, I have to talk about the sound. I give a lot of credit to Ed Asner for giving Carl that bitterness in his voice while at the same time retaining that youthful sincerity he had when he was younger. That was some skill, since I am used to hearing Asner’s voice as the “evil” corporate guy (Ed Wuncler in the Boondocks, J. Jonah Jameson in the 90’s Spider-Man, and Roland Daggett in the 90’s Batman: The Animated Series). And one more nod to Michael Giacchano, who provided the score. The wonderful melody that played throughout the reflective moments, almost made me ball at some points. Look out for Michael Giacchano, not only did he score Up, but he’s also scored Ratatouille, the Incredibles, and the new Star Trek, although I mostly admire his score for the TV show Lost.. Dare I say, he’s approaching John Williams territory.
Anyway, as with any Pixar movie at the moment, it’s worth the trip to the theater.