Friday, November 20, 2009

Movie Review: Up (2009) - 3 1/2 stars

Pete Docter's Up is a film that seems to transcend all of its previous animated predecessors in certain sequences, but also give into formula at other times. It's a somewhat unfocused effort as Doctor and his co-writer Bob Peterson clearly do more than just recognize the film's adult themes, but they also seem to sacrifice some of the story in order to make the majority of the movie watchable for the young ones. What ultimately makes this film one of Pixar's best is how powerful the emotions truly are. Despite all of the adventure and the often-times predictable humor, this is a film that is more moving than any other animated piece I have seen before.

The first sequence of the film is one of those scenes that stands above everything else in the film. In fact, if I was recommending this film to someone, I would simply say that you should see mainly for the first ten minutes. Rarely do films start off gunning for the audience's emotional core, but the way this movie goes about doing that works perfectly. 

Ellie and Carl are childhood friends that share a similar passion for exploring. They spend their time not only idolizing their heroes such as Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), but also sketching out future plans of their own.

These two stay together as they get older and eventually get married. Docter and co-writer Bob Peterson choose to present Carl (Edward Asner) and Ellie's adult relationship without dialogue, and we're all the better for it. The couple tries their best to save up for their dream trip to Paradise Falls, but they run into many other problems that take first priority.

Before Carl knows it, he is a 78-year-old widower who spends his days locked up alone in his house. He inevitably reflects on his life and on all of the life goals he never fulfilled. Using his skills as a balloon man, he decides to take the journey to Paradise Falls in an attempt to find something that is worth living for. While there is a lot of excitement in his decision, we sense he is leaving almost more out of necessity for a reason to stay alive. 

Unbeknownst to Carl, an 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has stowed away in his floating house. The last thing Carl wanted during this adventure was some chatty 8-year-old kid staying in his house, but he really can't do anything about it when they are floating around thousands of miles above our heads. When the two land near Paradise Falls, it is up to these two to complete the last leg of the journey. 

Carl and Russell go through a handful of adventures together, most of them heart-warming, but a couple that I could have done without. Nevertheless, the bonding that occurs between these two characters isn't forced; it develops over a steady amount of time and it feels as genuine as every other emotion in this film.

I did have some difficulties with the latter portion of the film that was filled with airplane-jumping and people-chasing rather than focusing on the emotional development of Carl and Russell's relationship. I will not say what conflict causes the over-extended action sequence towards the end, but it suffices to say that I didn't really buy it.

In the end, Up is a film that can be appreciated for the skill in which it develops its main characters so well in only an hour and a half. What results are emotions that I never thought I would feel in an animated film. I wasn't particularly impressed with 2008's WALL-E, and I felt that this was going to be another Pixar film that didn't work for me, but I came away more than impressed.

Time will tell if Up is able to squeeze out a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars, but with the expansion to ten nominees, it is certainly a strong contender. It's beautiful, funny, moving, and memorable, and it is a film that is very tough to dislike. Even though some of the adventure sequences and humor are predictable and corny, the film as a whole is well-worth watching, and one that I wouldn't mind seeing among the Best Picture nominees. 


Alfindeol said...

I really liked Up, but I agree with your criticism. The film just got really silly towards the end. They do get props for having a pretty intense villain though.

I had forgotten about the 10 Best Picture nominee thing... I'm not sure I like that idea at all. It just increases the chances that a sub-par movie will steal the award. The extra recognition is great since a lot of films deserve it, but I foresee it leading to mistakes.

Danny King said...

@ Alfindeol: The change definitely has its benefits and its drawbacks. One of the most annoying things is that when any film gets decent reviews, people start talking Best Picture. In that case, you are correct that it does open the door for some undeserving films. We'll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Anonymous said...

I loved this movie! Rarely has a movie ever made me cry, but the beginning sequence when Ellie's health was deteriorating, that brought a tear to my eye.

The villain (voiced by the great Christopher Plummer) was awesome, I loved the story of him trying to find the rare species of bird and it forced Carl to stop living in the past and help those around him.

Also, Russel is (a non-stereotypical) asian! A first for Pixar movies!

Overall, I'll be really angry if this doesn't get nominated for Best Picture.

Danny King said...

@ Anon: I also teared up during the opening sequence. One of the most emotional opening sequences I've seen in quite a while.

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