Saturday, May 30, 2009

Up (in 3-D!)

Up, 2009
Dir: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
May 30, 2009
Showcase Cinema, Revere MA

I think it's safe to say that most of the talent that heads into Hollywoodish film making ends up at Pixar. They deliver quality product time and again, and Up is no different. In fact it might be one of the better films they have ever made. Along with Wall-E last year, Pixar seems to be branching out in a direction that is safe for a parent company like Disney, and yet still lets them be creative in awesome ways.

There is something strange about being handed a pair of glasses when you are about to watch a movie. Personally, I don't think that 3-D is cool (personally I'm waiting for hologram), but in this film, the animators did a great job, especially with the landscapes. The film is about an old grumpy man who, after his wife dies, decides to fulfill their lifelong dream of visiting Paradise Falls in South America and have their house sit right next to it. His dream is hastened when he hits a man and is going to be sent to a retirement home. Unbeknownst to them, he unveils his plan the next morning by releasing hundreds of helium balloons which are attached to his house and begins to float away. Unfortunately, an overeager Asian kid who had offered his help earlier was under the porch and is now along for the ride. Once they reach Paradise Falls, Carl, the old man, meets a childhood idol that he thought was long gone. He is, however, not the hero that Carl thought he was.

The beginning of the film is a bit misleading, where it shows the hijinks of two kids (Carl and his future wife, Ellie), and their love of Charles Muntz, a famous adventurer who becomes disgraced. The montage that follows, which starts with their wedding, is pretty phenomenal. It goes from the blissful days of young marriage (showing picnics and the way they painted their house together, all with thoughts of Paradise Falls on their mind), to the bizarrely sad (the couple's inability to conceive), to the heartbreaking end (where Carl sits glumly at Ellie's wake.) As soon as it was over, I thought is was really well done, and then immediately I thought how it would be a lot to digest for a kid, though they say they're growing up faster these days. Nevertheless, it was different and effective. Carl certainly has a Grumpy Old Man/Ebenezer Scrooge feel to him at the beginning, and Russell, the Asian kid, is the one who lifts him out of foul mood and helps him learn to live again. Russell, for all his boyish foppishness, is sympathetic enough, though his humor falls flat sometimes (as does a lot in the film, but it's easily overlooked). Forced humor aside, Russell's most poignant moments are when he talks to Carl about his father, a workaholic who absences in his son's important moments in life are becoming more and more frequent. Other comedic moments come from Dug, the oddball of Muntz's dog pack, who, like his fellows, is given a collar that gives him the ability to speak, although in a simple, doggish way. Dug's own story, a "worst to first" expedition, has it's own satisfying rewards. Muntz as a villain is a bit stale, but adequite as the deranged 30s adventurer/tycoon/old-tymey big game hunter. The large exotic bird in the film, Kevin (named by Russell in a fit of glee, though of course is turns out to be female), is Muntz's obsession, and while I want to say it is kind of a throwaway character, is pretty central to the plot, but not in any of the really interesting ways that I thought other parts of the film delivered.

I think that the whole flying away on balloons, or flying away in general, as if flying away from your problems, while used quite a bit, never gets old. Creating that mood, that fantasy, is a hard thing to do, and the wonder you feel when witnessing it all on screen is one of the great parts of going to the movies, at least for me. I'd have to say that this movie is right up there in movies about balloons, right behind The Red Balloon (1956) by Albert Lamorisse, which is one of my favorite films ever, and maybe the most overlooked children's movie ever. Up delivers in every way possible, and is a great story for anyone. It has the smarts, laughs (a few for sure), and ability to pull at your heartstrings that has come to define every Pixar film. They have outdone themselves again, and I can't wait for the next one.

* The short film preceding Up, Partly Cloudy, is also very good, in that "that's what friends are for" kinda way.

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