Saturday, June 13, 2009

Up, Up and Away

This afternoon we went to see the new Pixar movie Up, the latest computer animated feature from a production company that can do very little wrong. Last year's Wall - E was a very strong movie which showed a continued increase in artistry and maturity in their fable like story telling style. The first part of Wall - E dealt with loneliness and isolation using almost no dialogue. After the success of Wall - E, it looks like Pixar felt bold enough to continue down that path. Which leads us to Up, the fanciful tale of an elderly widower who escapes the dreary prospects of old age by attaching enough helium balloons to his house to fly it towards his idyllic paradise. A boy scout type of kid named Russell unwittingly tags along for the ride as they head to Paradise Falls in South America - a place that time forgot. The place where an adventurer named Charles Muntz went to capture the equivalent of the Dodo bird and never came back. Muntz "Spirit of Adventure" is what bonded the elderly Carl Friedrickson to his wife while they were children. After arriving in Paradise Falls, Carl and Russell encounter adventure, mishaps and talking dogs non stop.

Up is almost a misnomer of a title, because the mood that Pixar works here is a melancholy sadness. The opening minutes show the relationship of Carl and his sprightly wife Elle, from childhood through their picturesque marriage save an inability to have children and then eventually Elle's death. It was surprising to see the mature subject matter of infertility and death handled in what could be considered a children's movie, yet it is handled sensitively and maturely. This segment was extremely moving and it powers the rest of the film as the memory of Elle and their dreams becomes the touchstone for Carl's adventure.

Again Pixar comes up with great characters like Russell, the innocent Asian boy scout who wants to earn his badge for assisting the elderly. Doug, the loveable talking dog who befriends Carl and Russell. And Kevin, the dodo bird with Roadrunner type qualities. The villains of the piece have the usual sort of personality characteristics (anger, pride, ruthlessness, indifference to others lives), yet steps are taken to lighten them up a little bit since this is intended as a kids movie.

The technical abilities of Pixar are never in question, the animation continues to be refined with enough detail and clarity that I actually forgot it was animated at times. At the start of the film is a computer animated short called Partly Cloudy that was very impressive visually as it relayed the tale of clouds making babies for the stork to carry. As for Up, from the concrete jungle to the, uh, jungle jungle the visuals are teaming with life.

What makes Up brilliant is its artistic ability, it's able to transition different moods easily and comfortably. Beauty, sadness, humor, adventure, and warmth come across vividly. Up's knack for tying together some dark feelings and fanciful whimsy without being forced is impressive for any film. Although advertised as a children's movie, Up takes another step towards breaking from that genre while still holding the core audience - the kids in the theater were noticeably quieter than normal while watching this. Not saying they were silent, the kid behind me was restless and kept saying something loudly and the mother had to promise ice cream after the movie to keep 'em in line.
Best of all, the ultimate message of the movie which could have seemed predictable or ironic felt sincere - Appreciate the adventure of life and the people you spend your time with. It's a sentimental message that's been used in other movies to lesser effect, in Up that message feels like a revelation.

Up isn't just great general entertainment, it's great filmmaking. My dog Dixie just came over to lick my face and tell me something. She says Up smells like a-squirrel!...winner, on a scale of one bark to ten barks ten being the highest, Dixie says:


Arsenette said...

That's cool :) I haven't seen the movie yet and not sure if I'll get a chance before it hits DVD sales. But that's cute about the 10 Dixies out of 10 :) I'll see if I can shanghai my friend to take me to see it!

Mr. Mike said...

Great! It really is worth seeing, I went into it not having read any reviews and didn't even know what it was fully about other than it had an old man, a kid and a talking dog.

Frontrow said...

UP was a great movie. I laughed, I cried. Even though my 5 year old is not old enough to understand feelings of melancholy, I could tell she was affected by the overall themes of the movie after we watched it together. The loss of Ellie, the divorce of Russell's parents. Good to see an Asian kid in the lead role.

Mr. Mike said...

Hi Frontrow! It's nice to see you! It was cool to see an Asian kid in the lead, I can't recall seeing that before on a big Hollywood movie that wasn't martial arts related. I understand about the laughing and crying, I went with my wife and mother in law, we all were crying up by the end of the Ellie & Carl montage.