Friday, June 17, 2011

A couple of  summer nights I watched Up! again with Melysa. The crisp and magnificence of the blu-ray were outshone only by the heart and triumph of the Pixar classic. I was taken in once more by the fantasy and pull. This time through the film touched so closely and poignantly  to circumstance in my own that I have been reviewing over in my mind since veiwing - as is the way with great stories.

 What follows is the dated critique I wrote that landed me Film Critic for a college paper down south. Luckily my abilities have improved. 

As the release date for Pixar’s newest animated film “Up” approached, I heard an interesting consensus among my friends (not just the critic types) on why they would not miss it “because Pixar always makes good movies.” 

What other studio holds that kind of clout? Disney once did, in the glory days. But with the ever-increasing amount of movies being spat out by Hollywood, few – if any – would ever see a film solely because it was produced by, say, Warner Brothers or New Line Cinema.

And Pixar certainly hasn’t disappointed with their latest picture, holding true to their record of stellar voice casting, top-notch animation , and overall great storytelling.

“Up” starts by shooting us through the life of Carl Fredricksen, especially as it relates to his friendship to, and later marriage with, sweetheart Ellie. From their childhood days until death takes Ellie, they have a full and wonderful relationship (shown in a silent and surprisingly touching montage) although they never accomplish their dream of traveling to Paradise Falls, the South American adventure ground of their childhood hero. 

Now alone, Carl takes comfort in maintaining his old house filled with memories of his deceased wife. The last thing on earth that matters to him, he repeatedly refuses selling his precious home to business tycoons wanting to develop the property. Carl’s life changes when a sudden burst of temper leads the law to order his eviction as a public nuisance. In desperation Carl escapes by tying hundreds of helium-filled balloons to his house and soaring to the skies just moments before his dreaded eviction. Destination? Paradise Falls. But as Carl flies off in Myiazaki-esque form, his perfect plan is “spoiled” by Russell – a young stowaway searching for a way to earn his “Assisting the Elderly” badge in a Boy Scout-like program.

It is refreshing to know that someone is making animated films that are not the colorful hodgepodge of crude humor, pop culture cracks, and rehashed concepts that we've been cursed with in recent years. In fact "Up" has somber and serious moments, but still delivers plenty of laughs, especially when the unlikely duo reach Paradise Falls where they encounter (among other surprises) a pack of talking dogs (the funniest voiced by co-director Bob Peterson) – henchmen of a mysterious master and struggle across strange territory.

The symbolism of the film is sometimes less-than-subtle, but never overbearing or preachy. We see Carl constantly and literally held back and encumbered by his floating house of nostalgia and familiarity, adventure, and even sometimes compassion, are drowned out in his paranoid worry over the floating structure. It becomes apparent that Carl must abandon his home if he wishes to preserve his new found friendships, and even survive, as his surroundings become increasingly hostile.

Though there is a somewhat clichéd fatherless boy/childless man relationship, it does not take away from the story's true message – as important as our memories are we shouldn’t allow souvenirs and reminiscing to stop us from taking hold of the future, perhaps best expressed in the sentence Carl’s wife wrote before her death; "Thanks for the adventure; now go out and have a new one!" It is marvelous to see, what is essentially, a children's film that features an old man as the lead and still captivates its audience. 

“Up” holds attention and pleases children as well as adults. In fact, one of the joys of "Up" is its ability to entertain children while not insulting the intelligence of any viewer. And Pixar remains the only studio that has turned the medium of CG film into entertaining art. As usual the draw is the film itself – not its stars (a trick studios like DreamWorks have yet to discover). Pixar veterans Peterson and Pete Docter add yet another hit on the studio's résumé, and although we are still months away from the end of the year it’s almost certain, yet another, "Best Animated Feature" Oscar will be sitting on Pixar's shelf.

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