Droid goes “UP” and likes where it takes him… SQUIRREL!
The latest film from the Pixar brain trust, simply called ‘UP’, stars a grouchy old bloke and a fat asian kid. Not two characters immediately associated with an animated kids movie. But in much the same way they brought a huge personality to a small robot, or made the culinary dreams of a rat deliciously intoxicating, these two unlikely characters capture the imagination.
Recently widowed Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a grumpy old coot is about to be evicted from the house he shared with his wife and lifelong best friend, Ellie. They met in childhood when they dreamt of following in the footsteps of their hero, disgraced adventurer Charles F. Muntz. Their dreams made way for the realities of life, and remained unfulfilled. When a rash act by Carl enables a land developer to take his home, he decides to make those dreams a reality. He ties hundreds of helium balloons to his house and sets off for Paradise Falls, somewhere in South America, last known whereabouts of his hero, Muntz.
A stowaway on this adventure is Russell (Jordan Nagai), a short, chubby Wilderness Explorer intent on earning the “assisting the elderly” badge that will see him promoted to Senior Wilderness Explorer and impress his absent father.
Once they arrive at Paradise Falls, the action begins in earnest, with Carl and Russell encountering a strange, exotic and much sought after bird, a pack of talking dogs that include the outcast Dug (Bob Peterson) and a mysterious villain from the past.
It’s all very enjoyable, but the real heart of the film is in the opening scenes. We meet Carl, shy and quiet, and Ellie, exuberant and tomboyish, as kids, and in a very effective sequence we see their life together. There is no dialogue in this sequence; it’s not needed, as we understand everything we need to know about their life and the reasons why their dreams of adventure remained unrealized. These scenes really are brilliant filmmaking, and on a different level to the rest of the movie.
Although the director, Pete Docter, who made the very similar feeling ‘Monsters Inc.’, injects the film with a lot of fun, colourful characters and exciting action, it’s easy to feel a little let down that, after the impressive opening scenes, ‘UP’ settles into a formulaic story when it could’ve been much more.
Despite that, there are themes explored in this film, like an absentee father, unrealized dreams or moving on with life after a loved one passes away, that other animated films such as the mildly diverting Ice Age or the abysmally awful Shrek don’t even attempt. These themes set the Pixar films apart. They bring an emotional resonance to their films and allow them to connect to the audience at a deeper level than if they were only empty action and gags.
Up is a film of quality, which never quite achieves the level of brilliance that the opening scenes promise. But it’s an infinitely superior entertainment than most other kids movies.
I saw this in 3D and am yet to be fully convinced of the process. Particularly on a screen that isn’t IMAX size. The picture appears darker and it strains the eyes. I’m not sure the process significantly changes the viewing experience for the better. Which begs the question, Why? I suppose it’s good for the Box Office and makes it harder to pirate, but is it better for the cinemagoer? Especially when you have to pay an extra charge on top of already lofty cinema prices.