Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Word "Up"- a movie review

I have to say that I have yet to meet a Pixar movie that I didn’t like.  From Toy Story through to Wall-E, each movie has been entertaining, surprising, and innovative.  Even the movie Cars, which I initially thought was a huge step backwards (in character design, theme, tone) ended up being one of my all-time favorites.  My Dad even liked it and he doesn’t like anything animated.  I also thought that after The Incredibles, how could they possibly top themselves or offer anything remotely as entertaining?  Well, they could and they did.

The 10th Pixar movie entitled Up tells the story of a lonely widower and his determination to take the trip that he and his wife never got around to.  It’s also a very Spielbergian look at dysfunctional or make-shift family units: a kid with an absent father meets a man who has no kids.  And all this in spectacular 3D.

***Spoilers, maybe?***

In what might be a summer trend, we are treated to an opening montage that sets up the story for the rest of the movie.  We see the first childhood meeting between Carl (Ed Asner) and his wife-to-be Ellie.  She is a born adventurer with dreams of building a house at Paradise Falls in the Lost World of South America.  Carl goes along with her dreams as they try to save up enough money for the trip.  But as so often happens in life, expenses come up that force them to break into their savings jar from time to time.  Years pass and the now elderly couple sit serenely in their home as the world goes on around them.  

The montage ends with Carl sitting alone at a funeral and transitions to him alone in his house.  The house itself is the lone survivor of the neighborhood with new construction threatening to destroy it.  His house is not only the home that he shared with his wife but the symbol of their adventurous aspirations.  The color and design match the dream house Ellie imagined building at Paradise Falls.  It even takes on a persona similar to the house in Monster House as Carl treats his home as if his wife’s spirit has inhabited it.

After a confrontation with the construction workers, Carl is pretty much forced to move.  As will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen the trailer, Carl attaches a large number of balloons to his home and floats away.  In the process he inadvertently carries with him a young scout named Russell, who had attempted to aid Carl the day before.  Russell is trying to earn his last merit badge – assisting senior citizens.

In a nice bit of blind casting, Russell is played by an Asian-American boy (Jordan Nagai) and modeled to look the same.  There is no reason for or against this choice and it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that they chose this young actor based on his skill alone.  And to have the CG character mirror that is even better.

The pair quickly reach South America and attempt to reach Paradise Falls.  During the journey they meet an impressive native bird and a talking dog.  The dog, Dug, is able to voice his thoughts through the use of a collar invented by his master, famous explorer Charles Muntz.  Muntz himself had travelled to this part of the world – years earlier when Carl was a boy – in search of the native bird.  He initially travelled there with several dogs, so eventually our heroes are confronted by 40 or 50 of their offspring – all wearing talking collars.

The dogs themselves were obviously created by actual dog owners.  Dug himself is so adorable and spot-on accurate to any dog I’ve ever met that you fall in love with him immediately.  Definitely not among the pack leaders, Dug quickly gains sympathy from the audience when the other dogs pick on him.  Because of the attention he receives from Carl and especially Russell, Dug decides that they are his new masters.

Oddly enough this completes the make-shift family unit.  Carl the father, Russell the son, Dug the pet, and even the bird as a protective mother-figure.  Their fates become intertwined as they face-off against Muntz as he tries to capture the bird.  There is a lot of give and take as each character rises to the challenge of saving the others.

***No more spoilers***

Though not a Spielberg film, Up definitely has been influenced by the movies of Spielberg and George Lucas.  Several Star Wars references crop up as do references from Close Encounters, E.T., and Jurassic Park.  There are even a few quiet moments where Russell shares his feelings about good times with his father.  Carl also discovers more about his late wife during their travels.  The family bond they share helps them to survive the journey and fulfill their dreams.

Notice should be paid to the textures in this movie as they are especially impressive, particularly on the merit badges.  You can actually sense what they feel like to touch.  Also notable, John Ratzberger makes his 10th appearance in a Pixar film (as a good-luck charm), but does so in Hitchcock fashion.  He appears early enough that you aren’t distracted listening for him.  And be sure to arrive on time, so you don’t miss the short film Partly Cloudy.

Up is certainly another triumph for the folks at Pixar, easily as exciting as The Incredibles or as heartwarming as Toy Story 2.  Prepare to be moved by this story and don’t be surprised if you shed a tear or two.  In fact, be surprised if you don’t.

- POPed Up by ReevesReel -

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