Pixar's String of Masterpieces Continues - Up
Written: Jun 19, 2009 (Updated Jul 1, 2009)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Wall to wall fantastic - animation, story, characters, voice works
Cons:The real world as we know it may not incorporate this story perfectly enough
The Bottom Line: For fans of Pixar, Disney, animation, movies, characters, and living in general. It's a must see.
When the folks at Pixar have a creative meeting to concoct a new film, do you think they ask each other what the hardest thing for them to pull off would be? Is it challenge that drives them to tackle complex topics and decidedly unfamiliar characters, at least as far as animated movies are concerned? How otherwise could they have landed on Wall-E, and that dazzling first half of the movie with virtually no dialogue? Doesn't it almost seem like that was attempted as a bet, just to see if they could do it?
To follow that up, Pixar's decided to again go away from conventionality and center their animated opus on an aged widower, a former balloon salesman, clinging to his home amidst sprawl all around, set in his ways, cranky, irascible, puttering around with a cane. That sound like a Lightning McQueen/Buzz Lightyear/Mr. Incredible style hero for you?
And that is what makes Pixar so great. It's what the folks producing animated features at Dreamworks don't get. You have to mix it up from time to time, stretch, take risks. You can't just keep taking some animal, give them a celebrity's voice, have them tumble across the screen for ninety minutes and expect crowds and accolades to roll in (Okay, crowds seem to eat it up).
Now, Pixar has made some typical children's entertainment - at least in premise - over the years. Cars, for example, in plot and design is nothing spectacular, but it does have loads of character and heart, which helps it transcend more rote kid's flicks. But it's the last three Pixar outings that have shown the company really stretching, as animators and filmmakers, in efforts to wow you.
Ratatouille, while a bit long, works expertly to combine human and animal characters the board when this is done one or the other will suffer mightily by comparison. Plus, the whole of the film is set in a restaurant. In France. If it weren't Pixar, no one would have seen this thing. But name value carries, and entertainment was delivered.
Wall-E was the best movie of last year, and one of the four or five best animated films ever made. The lead characters, the robots Wall-E and E.V.E., don't actually speak, and yet they share more than chirpy couple in romances throughout cinema. And it's set 700 years in the future on a wasteland version of our planet, the state of which we are to blame. No one would even try to make this story, and no studio would greenlight the script. Pixar does it, and it's a masterpiece.
And now Up, their tenth film, with it's ballsy choice of hero, and safer decision to pair him with a precocious, chubby Boy Scout. The elder Carl decides, at risk of getting sent to a retirement home, to fly his house to South America through the use of thousands of balloons and an elaborate system of sails. It had been his and his wife's dream to visit Paradise Falls since watching films of their favorite adventurer as children, but they never got there. Life got in the way, as it does, and only now, with his wife no longer around to see it, Carl finally embarks. Once there, along with the stowaway Russell, they encounter numerous problems related to hauling around an airborne house and dealing with another slightly crazed explorer, and his legion of talking dogs.
Okay, so there are some family friendly elements - the dogs with the voice collars, a giant colorful bird that only makes wacky noises, a lot of thrilling action sequences played up for great comic effect - but the film has so much more. Taking a page from the Wall-E playbook, Up is launched with a five minute virtuoso sequence of virtually no dialogue that covers Carl and Ellie's life from when they meet right through to her heartbreaking death. It's a sorrowful, masterful opening that sets up all major events in the film, and does so with ease.
From there the movie introduces Russell and the gorgeous, iconic flying house. Sure, reality gets a bit skewed, and considering the film is set very much in the real contemporary world it may be a bit off putting, it still makes for beautiful cinema. The adventure story is fun, the characters are hilarious, and the touching moments have that heart tugging sweetness you've come to expect from Pixar (Finding Nemo style Pixar, no so much The Incredibles Pixar).
The voice work is excellent, with Lou Grant himself Ed Asner bringing a gruff tenderness to Carl, and Jordan Nagai's hilarious overzealous scout. Christopher Plummer pops up as the object of Carl and Ellie's childhood adoration, the explorer Charles Muntz, and as always Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger adds his distinctive voice, this time in a more limited role as a construction foreman near Carl's still earthbound home.
It's yet another fantastic outing from the best movie company operating today. Sure, they only make one movie a year, but I'd rather studios rolled out one fantastic film a year than dozens of crap flicks. Up is terrific, even if it's a hair below the stratospheric heights set by their last film. That could be due to the film being the only one from Pixar without a magical element - talking dog collars aside. The 78 year old with the flying house that he built may be a bit too far fetched, but once you buy it the rest falls nicely into place.
The other big draw may be the massive marketing of this being Pixar's first foray into 3-D, but you barely notice it. It doesn't have big, flashy 3-D moments to cover up for a lack of storytelling (Monsters vs. Aliens!), but it also feels a bit like a money grab. It's a great looking movie, 3-D or not, and didn't much require the gimmick and extra couple bucks to see. So don't bother wasting the extra money, it's nothing spectacular in 3-D, which is pretty much what you can say about all of these 3-D films in this new craze.
But don't miss Up, it's terrific, and again thrusts Pixar into the mix for having the best film of the year.
The Goatius Grade = 4.5
For further effusive praise of Wall-E, see my Best of 2008 review.
Also, see my other 2009 film reviews below, if you're so inclined:
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Away We Go
Angels & Demons
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Monsters vs. Aliens
The Great Buck Howard
Observe and Report
I Love You, Man
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