I have made no secret of the fact that I’ve loved every Pixar movie that has come out. Some I’ve enjoyed less than others, but never once have I felt like they’ve put together anything less than a great story.
As you’ve probably guessed based on other reviews, Up is no different. A rousing adventure comedy, the movie doesn’t disappoint. But it does go a few places I didn’t expect, and it separates itself from other Pixar movies by allowing itself to be “about” many different things.
Up until now, each Pixar film has been easily summed up in a sentence or two. That’s not to say that the films are simplistic; they’re high-concept animation films of the ilk we’ve come to expect.
Monsters Inc. is about a group of kid-terrified monsters who accidentally bring a child into their own world. Finding Nemo is about a father searching for his son across a vast ocean. And Wall-E is about a robot falling in love and helping humanity regain its sense of self worth.
Up is about a man named Carl Frederickson. The trailers would have you think it’s about his balloon ride with a young wilderness explorer. Watching the first fifteen minutes of the movie, and you’d think it’s about his coping with the death of his wife. If you go by the “adventure” element of the film, this movie is about Carl facing off against a former idol to rescue a giant bird.
And it’s also about talking dogs.
While there is a lot of high-concept stuff in here, like balloon houses and lost worlds, the movie isn’t really about any one element. Really, it’s 100% about Carl. It’s a man’s life story, focusing on his attempt to find meaning in his latter years.
That, more than anything, is what sets Up apart.
Because it’s covering so many themes and so much ground, it feels like a few elements were slightly short-changed. The villain isn’t quite as interesting as he could be, we don’t get a tidy “wrap-up” for a couple of minor characters (I’m thinking of one vicious dog, in particular), and, to be quite honest, we don’t get as much of Carl and Russell interacting and bonding as I’d like.
This movie could have easily been twenty minutes longer, but brevity does work best in adventure films, and the movie does just about the best job that it can in the short runtime it has to work with. So I won’t complain too much.
Character motivations and feelings are conveyed in looks, not speeches. Entire lifetimes of memories are shown to us silently, and Russell’s home troubles, while discussed overtly in one scene, are more implied than explained.
The subtlety works wonders. I am not ashamed to admit that there were a number of occasions where the movie brought tears to my eyes, and even more incidents of laugh-out-loud moments.
In the realm of comedy, the movie isn’t afraid to go out on a limb. The “talking dog collar” device is used to perfection, complete with broken voice translators, and lines like “I just met you, and I love you” seem spot-on for the creatures.
What I really enjoyed most about this movie is that it pushes itself beyond the norm into the fantastic, the silly, and the clever. The device of balloons carrying the house works perfectly to set up a world of very strange logic–a world where you can “walk” your floating house across a jungle terrain, and dogs act as unquestioning agents of their master.
It really is a world we haven’t seen before, full of quirks and idiosyncrasies, and I love it. Even Pixar movies seem to have a set standard of rules to their environments, based in what we know and expect from animated films. Up fights those standards, really working to give you something new, fresh, and interesting.
I will avoid plot synopses or heavy spoilers…just go see the movie. I happened to do a double feature with this and Drag Me To Hell. It worked pretty well, actually. Both movies are stellar, both movies give you a serious “charge,” and both films take their established genre in wild directions that you don’t really see coming.
It’s been a great weekend for movie-watching. You’ve got two greats to choose from–try and find your way to a theater as soon as possible.