May 2009 28

upTo be perfectly honest I thought I was going to enjoy this movie. I have high expectations with Pixar films. However, last years Pixar film Wall-E had such a great trailer that it almost moved me to tears. The trailer for Up was exciting, but didn’t have the same effect. So, yes I thought I would like this film. I had no idea that I would love this film. Don’t let any of the marketing fool you. They make it look like it is about a crotchety old man who wants to get away from everything and just happens to accidentally take a little boy who is on his porch. This movie is much more than that. So much more in fact that I think they should look at a more honest way to market it.

At its heart Up is a love story. The first 10 minutes gives us a rundown on the life of Carl Fredrickson, who goes from little boy with dreams of adventure with his best friend, Ellie. As they grow up and get married those dreams of adventure are put on the back burner. Through one of the best portions of the movie we see them deal with all kinds of issues, including finally the death of Ellie.

See, this is what they don’t let you know in the trailers. Carl isn’t trying to get away for just anything. He is fulfilling his promise to his dead wife who he misses that he will have his adventure. Along the way once we are in the sky we find out that a young child who is a Wilderness Explorer who has been trying to get his “Assist the Elderly” badge was unknowingly on the porch when liftoff occurred. From here on the adventures occur.

What makes Up so great overall is the willingness to tell a story without a fear that children won’t be able to handle some of the concepts. Major issues are touched upon in this movie, including but not limited to inability to have children, death of a spouse, and child abandonment. These issues only make the characters of the film more relatable and multi-dimensional. So many times in animated film it seems the directors forget the storytelling that all the beautiful visuals are meant to accompany.  Although, this doesn’t mean the film is all heavy handed messages and moral themes. The characters are fun, so fun that I found myself giggling like a child at some points in the film. The talking dogs are especially hilarious. If you are a dog owner or a dog lover you can just imagine that your dog would be saying the same type of things given such a collar that allowed them to speak.

The visuals are as equally impressive as the characters. Like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc., A Bug’s Life, etc. The color palate just jumps off the screen at you (quite literally in the 3D version). The character designs are similar to the designs of humans that we have seen in previous Pixar films. Cartoonish but realistic enough not to cross over into the uncanny valley where they become creepy. Whether it is a city scape or a jungle in South America Up will have you in awe of the art that surrounds its characters. With each of their successive films it seems they have only gotten better at the digital matte paintings that surround the scenes. Where the characters are cartoonish the surrounding environment looks almost real enough at times to reach out and touch.

It is amazing that a studio can make this many good films in a row. It’s going to be very disappointing for any film fan for when they do a film that is less than stellar. Pete Doctor gives us a film that is even better than his last effort (Monsters Inc.). I can only hope there isn’t as much time in between his next project and this one. This film is about as perfect as Pixar has done yet. I loved last year’s offering, Wall-E, but I felt it got a little to preachy at the end. This one hits every note just right and keeps the whole experience full of entertainment.

I highly recommend for anyone to see Up. It is a great movie for anyone of any age. Although, if you know someone with a child go with them. It’s great fun to see a child enjoy something this much.

Rating: A

Here’s another take from Zac:

Pete Docter and company have made yet another masterpiece in the Pixar line up and while I’m not quite ready to anoint it with Wall-e and The Incredibles as my favorite, it is definitely in that just behind second tier of their work with a chance to maybe sneak its way up there after repeat viewings; which is better then 95% of the animated movies released over the last 10 years.

Carl Fredricksen grew up idolizing the great adventurer Charles Muntz who discovered a beautiful hidden sanctuary of nature in South America. The news reels that played at the theater enthralled Carl and he lived his life acting out many of the great acts in his own world as a child. One day while playing in the street he comes across an abandoned house with a lot of shouting coming out from it, calling Muntz’s catch phrases about adventure, Carl decides to investigate who has the same passion as him and the culprit is a young girl named Ellie. The two bond in quite a hurry and before we know it we are whipped into a montage of their lives together as they get married, buy the disheveled house they met in and fix it up, share their love, and constantly dream of one day visiting the seemingly fable world that Muntz found all those years ago. After nearly 65-70 years together Ellie passes away quietly and happily, leaving Carl with her book of adventures she has been meaning and hoping to fill over the years but they were never able to find the opportunity to do so. Carl’s life post Ellie is simple, sad, and grumpy. The world around him has left his house in the middle of a major cities construction and Carl with plenty to complain about and comment on from his porch. One day a Wilderness Explorer scout comes to the “aid” of Carl hoping to earn a badge for helping the elderly to which Carl sends Russell on a pointless hunt after a non-existent bird called a “snipe” that apparently ravages his garden. Russell is off on his search, to return when he has found his bounty, only to have Carl run into an incident with the law that gives the “suits” developing the land around him the leverage to finally pry him and his house off their desired site. On the morning the retirement home comes to pick up Carl, he springs a plan letting loose thousands of balloons tied down into his chimney that lifts his house from its foundation and into the city air and off to South America. Little did Carl know that Russell was looking for the snipe under Carl’s porch and he is now along for the adventure at hand as well.

The film is beautiful to look at but at the same time is the simplest design since Cars for Pixar. Now I am not complaining here, just don’t expect photo realistic shots and sets like Wall-e and Ratatouille have given us over the last couple of years. Up has a wonderful stylized look that is contained to only a few environments, but is still amazing to look at and explore. The film is also constructed nearly flawlessly with no scene ever being dull or wasted. If any complaint can be made towards the film, it might be that the flight of the house to South America might be to quick and easy, but once you get to the stuff that happens once they land, you will be glad they didn’t dilly daddle with trying to make the trip and extended sequence in the film and possibly have bloated the picture.

The humor in the film is as good as or better than anything Pixar has done, no one can argue that, but the film is more touching and heartbreaking then anything Pixar has done. The film isn’t tragically sad like the opening up Finding Nemo, but the emotional beats and punches that you get hit with as the film goes are just as effective as that heart wrenching opening scene in Nemo. The supporting characters of Dug the Dog and Kevin the Bird are both brilliantly realized and will have you laughing every time they step into frame and we are never deprived nor over stimulated with these two quirky characters they find just the right mix. The villains of the film are also realized quite well as they provide both laughs and pose a threat at the same time.

All four of the main characters in the film are endlessly likable, relatable, and sympathetic. Carl is funny, compelling, and heart breaking at times as he swoons for Ellie. Russell is full of spirit and childish ambition, but even shows he is vulnerable and perfectly captures a kid in that even if they are playing one thing on the surface, it doesn’t mean they don’t have something else underneath it all. Dug and Kevin are also hilarious and all the same silly and used to execute some brilliant physical humor and act as unlikely heroes.

In the end, Up’s appeal is broad, broad as in all encompassing. I don’t how anyone one can go into this film and be turned off by it. It’s got something for everyone, and outside the floating house there isn’t a whole lot of terrible suspension of disbelief. I can get why some people didn’t click with Wall-e or Ratatouille but this is going to have the broad appeal Cars had, and is a much better film on top of that. You know a film is great when dogs are flying planes in the film’s climax, and that finale is awesome!, and you don’t even think twice because you are having just too much damn fun. Docter and company did a fantastic job and Up will go down as one of Pixar’s greatest films, and that is certainly saying something.

I give it in A+, even better the second time around

P.S. The final shot is as perfect as I have seen in a picture in years.

Here’s another take from Mike

I don’t quite know how to begin to write about Up. It’s been a few days since I’ve seen it, and yet I still can’t manage to find the words. Magic, maybe? It’s the only thing that can come to mind, really, because the film works magic on so many levels that it, in itself, must be an act of magic. Rich, filled with depth and texture, humor, and gorgeous. Best of all, the wizards at Pixar managed to inject more feeling and emotion than any animated feature I’ve ever seen. Screw Bambi’s mom, Simba’s dad, and Akira’s friend Tetsuo.

The story is rather simple: after elderly Carl’s wife Ellie passes, he sets out to live their lifelong dream of visiting a mysterious waterfall in South America, doing so by unleashing a fleet of balloons to lift his house there. Things are complicated by a young tagger on named Russell eager to earn his final wilderness scout badge. The two embark on a wonderful adventure through all kinds of high flying peril, wild animals, and a forgotten face, all in an effort to bring the house to the spot of which has been foreseen by a childhood map. A quest for destiny.

What I found to be the most impressive from Up was this grand sense of adventure. I’d go as far as to say that I’ve not seen an adventure film which has captured the actual spirit since Lawrence of Arabia. At most, it’s since Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s quite an accomplishment. There are so many challenges, and so much of the unknown, and so much of what makes a grand adventure so great. It’s danger! It’s staggering the number of times that our protagonist’s death appears to be inches away – and this is from what is essentially a family film! Though deep down you doubt that there would be any chance that either main character would actually die, not even in a noble self sacrificial fashion, but yet I found myself white knuckle in the film’s final act. I don’t doubt that my fear of heights mixed with the 3-D imagery played a major factor in all of this. It’s beautiful 3-D, too, the kind of which just adds depth to the beautiful imagery from Pixar as opposed to being a flashy gimmick. It’s one prime example for the potential for the return of the 3-D fad for animated features, at least. I’ve yet to find a live action example.

At any rate, the sprawling locations, and the cast of characters we meet help round out the tale. Carl and Russel are a perfect mismatched pairing, and both characters are fantastically voiced. I’ve always found that Pixar’s films capture children voices in a fantastic fashion, bringing realism where most kids act stiff. A noisy bird character named Kevin, a talkative dog named Dug, and a pack of rival dogs led by a Doberman with the voice of a chipmunk, all of which have well drawn personalities and provide a bevy of laughs. But it’s Charles Muntz who provides the perfect antagonist. It’s the classic case of finding the man you looked up to when you were younger, only to discover in reality that he was far from what you believed. He’s deadly, and menacing, and he’s a villain that has been missing from Disney films since the days of The Little Mermaid. He’s memorable, he’s compelling, and he’s a foil who provides the opposite.

Major accolades must be paid to composer Michael Giacchino, whose moving, thrilling score was the perfect undercurrent to keep the whole boat (or house) moving. His work on the “life and death” montage at the beginning of the film was beautiful, stirring stuff, and he accentuates Carl’s journey with grace and punctuality. For those not aware of the man’s connection to Pixar, he handled the excellent scores for both Brad Bird films, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Giacchino also scored majorly for me with his work on the Star Trek reboot, so it’s a good summer. Did I mention he also does the incredbile music for Lost? It might be a tangent, but the guy’s good, and praise is certainly earned with Up. Lastly, one certainly can’t avoid mentioning writer/co-director Bob Peterson. I’d love to see exactly how much input an animation director puts into these things, but at the very least his script is simple and amazing.

I don’t go around often throwing so much praise on a film, but Up is one of which I could not find fault. It’s only issue, possibly, could be that this story is filled with themes beyond its target audience’s comprehension. But I think Pixar has been moving further and further away from making traditional films for children, rather finding this middle ground where the visuals and the humor can hypnotize the child, and the story and the characters can move the adults. Pixar is officially back on a roll now after the roadbump that was Cars. They’ve crafted a beautiful film, both visually and intellectually. It’s the first film in a long time that I would classify as perfect.

Rating: A+


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