Sunday, May 31, 2009


When it comes to Pixar, some films need to be held to different standards.

Up has set them for the aforementioned studio.

Since 1995, Pixar has graced us with 10 films, all of which (minus Cars), have set the standard by which other animated films are judged. With Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monster's Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E, and now Up, Pixar has become not only the best animated studio, but arguably the best studio working in cinema today.

Up tells the story of the 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen, who since being a young child, has had an urge for adventure. However, instead of heading to a retirement home, he decides to feed these urges. By tying thousands of balloons to his colorful home, Carl sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to head out to Paradise Falls, in South America. He's not alone though. After liftoff, he discovers that Russell, a wilderness scout, has joined him for his journey filled with talking dogs, giant birds, and a poetic tale of love gained, love lost, and love reborn.

Throughout the history of Pixar, the biggest current running through their art, is the attempt of bringing the themes of their pieces to the forefront. Ranging from the idea of moving out of adolescence from the Toy Story films, to the environmentalist rant that was the brilliant Wall-E, they have strive to not only make an entertaining film, but one that allows people to chew on the themes a bit more.

Up is no different. The film is a beautiful and poetic look at what happens over the span of a persons life, and how love lost can drive someone to do more than they are expected. The opening 20 minutes of this film may be some of the most moving and artistically paced pieces of cinema I have seen in a long time. In what can be described as a 10-15 minute montage, you go from Carl's childhood to the current day, and you see everything in between. His love of adventure never changes, but the type of adventure he goes on for his first 78 years changes. It is real things that happen in the lives of people, and it is just that much more moving. There wasn't a dry eye in the theatre, and it kept moving for the entire 102 minutes.

Then there is the voice cast. Another phenomenal thing that Pixar has been able to do, is cast primarily unknown actors in perfect roles. Other than Toy Story, TS2 and Cars, instead of casting Bruce Willis as a raccoon, simply because he's Bruce Willis, the cast Sarah Vow, an author, in a role that she was perfect for.

If their was some sort of Oscar for Best Voice Actor, Ed Asner as Carl would be the hands down winner. It's a role that could have simply been played as a grumpy old man, but instead, he plays it as a man whose seen more than his fair share of joys and tragedies, but isn't shunning the world because of it. The world is changing around him (his house is in the middle of a construction zone just as an example), and while he's not willing to change, he knows it comes. There is also such a deep well of emotion within the character, that he mines complete gold out of it. He's comedic, sweet, and yes, a bit grumpy, but he wants to complete his dream, as well as the dream of his late wife (a point that I'm not going to discuss for fear of bringing down the wall of emotion you will run into when you see the film), that it's truly a tour de force performance. Sure, it's just a voice, but if live action actors were half as great, we would have a lot more phenomenal films running around.

Not to be totally outdone though was Jordan Nagai as Russell, the sweet Wilderness scout who joins the journey. He wants to get his last Wilderness Badge, and he meets Carl while trying to get his last one, Aiding the Elderly. He's inspired by the world around him, and yet has this childish sense of innocence, that really holds this film down in the world of reality. His character is a bit predictable, at least his character arch, but it's such a joy to watch him not only deal with his own personal problems (his father isn't really around and his parents aren't together), and still be so innocent and inspired by everything around him.

Christopher Plummer is solid as the bad guy, Charles Muntz, but it really isn't his story, and he isn't given a ton of screen time. He's menacing enough, but his character's reasoning behind his actions isn't really justified (it's basically a guy getting his much sought after doll getting taken away from him). His character is a bit cartoonish, but like I said, his lack of screen time makes it a non-issue.

The film is also beyond gorgeous to look at. Pete Docter and Bob Peterson (who also co-wrote the piece), allow their frames to be completely filled with Pixar's stunning animation, that it's such a wonder to look at. The textures are completely realistic, particularly the skin of the characters, that it's surprising to see such detail come from an animated film. Then again, it IS Pixar, so what should be expected.

The film is also insanely funny. Throughout their journey, Carl and Russell come across a few very special characters. First, there is the dog with a talking collar, Dug. A lot of the comedy comes from the interchanges between Dug and the two leads, along with their special bird buddy, a snipe, called Kevin (it's a female btw). The beauty of the comedy within the film is that it's not a film based around a set of jokes, but instead, it's jokes that seem to come organically out of this truly moving story.

However, all would be for naught, for me at least, if the character motivations were not their, and that leads back to the themes. The films main thematic drive is that everyone and everything strives for love and to be loved, or at least have their love be fulfilled. There is Carl who is striving to finish off his lost loves dream that they shared, Russell just wants to find some one who truly appreciates him in some fashion, Dug wants to find a master who loves him, and Kevin wants to find her family, who she has been separated from. It's a truly realistic and poetic look at love and life that has been left behind. Each of the characters have been somehow left behind or separated from their love(s), and this is a story of their hunt to bring the love back.

Really, this is a brilliant film and I'm running out of things to say about it. It's easily the best film of the year so far, and it may be a perfect film. Sure, it has a few flaws, but this is not a flawed film. It's a stunningly beautiful and emotionally moving look at life, and it's a must see. Pixar's best to date is also the best film so far of '09. GO SEE THIS FILM.

UP - 10/10

Go see something good!

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