May 30, 2009

Movie Review: Up

up3_largeThey have done it again. That's right, Pixar has created another slice of brilliance to the cinema. I have to say that I am amazed at the run this artistically driven company has had. Ever since they arrived with 1995's Toy Story, they have consistently turned out classic or near-classic films. All of their movies are the sort you can pick at random and have your spirit lifted. Up is no different. Up is a movie that is an instant classic, it brings together high adventure, action, heart, and emotion together in a story that will have your attention right from the start.

Much like earlier Pixar outings, the trailers for Up have been decidedly less than compelling. Sure, they did spark a little interest, but cannot say that I felt an overriding desire to go and see it because of what I saw, I was more interested in the fact that it is a Pixar film. On the other hand, it is great to see movies that are not advertised in a way that the entire story is given in a 90 to 120-second chunk like trailers so often do these days. Better too little than too much any day.

upl_1049413_a4d3b9b4I guess it is becoming predictable by now, we may begin taking Pixar's greatness for granted. Year in and year out, Pixar's films tickle the imagination and bring a level of intelligence rarely seen in animation, much less cinema at large. For Up, Pixar has turned to Pete Docter, director of Monster's Inc., and writer on the Toy Story films and Wall-E (of which he was the original director before moving on to focus on Up). With that pedigree, he has to be considered one of the leaders of the animation revolution alongside John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Brad Bird.

Up begins in the past with a young boy who longs to be an adventurer, watching newsreels of a famous explorer named Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Muntz explores a hidden plateau in the Venezuelan rain forest, bringing back artifacts of his escapades, but when his findings are accused of being fraudulent, he takes off in his giant airship with his countless canine sidekicks to capture proof of his discoveries.

Meanwhile, the young boy, named Carl, does not lose his adventurous spirit. He comes across a like-minded young girl named Ellie and the two become fast friends. What follows is a montage of life as Carl and Ellie grow up, get married, buy the ramshackle home they used to play in, begin to save for their dream journey to Venezuela, and deal with all of life's unforeseen difficulties. Life always intervenes when they begin to get on a roll. As old age sets in, life intervenes one last time and Carl finds himself alone. He becomes something of a hermit, an old curmudgeon who seems to live to keep people off his yard.

upr_still_4This entire sequence is told with such care and heart that I found it difficult to not be affected. It is a romance handled with genuine emotion and definite realism that it hit home more than than many live-action romances. It tells a beautiful story of two people together that you almost forget about everything else, but before you know it Carl is alone and the next stage of his life, and the primary story, begins.

Carl worked with balloons during his working years (learned during the opening montage), and this gives him the idea to pay tribute to Ellie and realize the dream of traveling to the mysterious plateau in Venezuela. He blows up thousands of balloons, attaches them to the house and lifts it right off of its foundation, off he goes, heading on the adventure of a lifetime.

Tagging along is young Wilderness Scout Russell, seeking his "Aiding the Elderly" badge. Why is he there? Well, stop looking under the porch for fake birds sounds like a good reason, no?

Before long, they are at the mysterious plateau and it is here that the real adventure truly begins. No, I am not going to tell you what happens, but it is magical, and real at the same time. The tale walks the fine line of realism and believability. The characters are so genuine and fully formed that it is easy to forget they are animated, although their adventure rarely lets you forget. It is a wonderful balance.

upr_still_3Up is tremendously affecting. The screenplay from Bob Peterson, whose prior credits include Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, is magical. It treats its characters as real people, allowing the story to develop in a secondary state to the characters. These people have likes and dislikes, they have their routines, and their arguments. It is a genuine joy to watch, a glimpse inside these people's lives.

Another reason for the success of the film is the voice casting. Who other than Ed Asner can you count on to be curmudgeonly and have a heart of gold? His work as Carl is absolute genius. He is simultaneously that grumpy old guy you want nothing to do with and a vulnerable man dealing with loss. Then you have Jordan Nagai who brings an earnest pluckiness to Russell, a role that easily could have been annoying, but instead is endearing. Finally, Christopher Plummer as our villain is unquestionably bad, and quite possibly insane. Oh yes, writer/co-director Bob Peterson provides the voice of Dug the dog, and is downright hilarious: "Squirrel!"

Up hits on so many levels, it continues the tradition of Pixar greatness, possibly even improving on Ratatouille and Wall-E. From the story, to the voice work, to the impeccable animation, Pixar continues to lead the pack with their seemingly limitless pool of A-list talent.

Bottomline. Up is a must see, whether you see 3D or not, you will not be disappointed. For the record, I saw it in 3D and it was beautifully rendered, adding a great deal of depth to the field. The film will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will amaze you, and it will capture your imagination. What are you waiting for?

Highly Recommended.


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