Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Up (****)

Up. 96 mins. PG. Directed by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson. Written by Bob Peterson. Starring the voices of Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo, and John Ratzenberger.

Despite its title, Up doesn't quite reach the lofty heights of Pixar's best films (for my money, Wall-E, The Incredibles, and both Toy Storys), but it is a worthy effort and stands head and shoulders above almost all other animated films.

Up tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, a widowed, grumpy old man whose house is on the verge of being torn down. Carl has shut himself off from life, grieving both his dead wife and the adventurous life they dreamed of but never lived. When a retirement home is forced upon him, Carl takes to the air - tying thousands of balloons to his chimney and setting off for a South African paradise, with a stowaway boy scout on board to both pester and, later, humanize Carl. The house he can't let go of is an obvious metaphor for his wife, Ellie, whose presence lingers throughout the film. In a beautiful, wordless montage at the beginning of the movie, we see Carl and Ellie's relationship develop over the years - from the joy of their marriage to the heartbreaking miscarriage Ellie suffers and finally to their tearful goodbye on her deathbed. Moments like these are what separates Pixar from every other competitor. They take non-traditional animated subject matter, and turn it into something magical - something that a live action film would even have trouble duplicating.

Up's at its best when it allows these emotional character arcs to take front and center stage. I could have done without Carl's tagalong kid - though he's not annoying, he's nothing new or interesting either. We've seen the cute Disney kid character a thousand times before. I also found the middle section dragged a little, focusing too much on the exotic bird the two are trying to protect, as well as the broad comedy involving a dog named Doug who's been fitted with a collar allowing him to speak. These parts probably play well with the little kids, but often feel at odds with the semi-serious tone of the first act.

In any event, the animation is spectacular to look at and there's a surprising amount of action. The filmmakers use 3D technology wonderfully - never going for the cheap gag, and just allowing the 3D to enhance the image, rather than distract from it. Up is a step-down from Wall-E, but it does great things for animated film, and moviegoers would be foolish to pass up a chance to see it on the big screen.



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