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Up (2009) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 27 May 2009

ImageNo studio in the history of Hollywood has had the track record of Pixar. Of course, no other movie studio releases so few films, but even so, it's remarkable that they have been able to retain such a consistently high level of quality amongst a series of feature and short films. The people at Pixar are constantly breaking new technological ground while telling stories of such high caliber that it puts all others (especially their main competitor, Dreamworks Animation) to shame. Even weaker Pixar films, such as A Bug's Life and Cars, are so thoroughly enjoyable that it's impossible to dislike them. And with their recent outings, Brad Bird's Ratatouille and Andrew Stanton's Wall-E, they took steps into new narrative grounds. Unfortunately, Up, their tenth feature, feels like a step backwards for the trailblazing studio.

Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) has always had a love of exploration and adventure. As a young child he meets a woman, Ellie, who shares the same passions, and the two eventually get married. As they get older, they still have dreams of traveling to South America to follow in the footsteps of their idol, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Before they can realize their dream, Ellie passes away, and Carl's house becomes an obstacle to a greedy land developer who wants to build a high rise. Feeling disconnected and lost, Carl cooks up a radical solution. By tying thousands of balloons to his house, he disconnects it from its foundations and aims to get to South America. Unfortunately, a young boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai), stows away on his porch. Before Carl can return Russell home, the two hit a storm front that takes them very close to Carl's destination. Determined to honor Ellie's memory by getting the house to a specific spot, Carl will face anything to get to his goal.

Up Slide

Up is a simple film. Perhaps too simple. After the unconventional premise of Ratatouille (a rat who longs to become a gourmet chef in Paris) and the unique visual storytelling of Wall-E, it appeared as if Pixar was ready to break new ground and take animation to places it had never been before. In fact, speaking with many animators (including Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame), it appears as if Wall-E is seen as something of a watershed moment in the animated genre. So for Pixar to follow it with a straight forward tale like Up, the film feels a little meager by comparison. After the richness of character and design that had gone into the past several Pixar flicks, Up seems malnourished. Aside from a giant bird and a hilarious talking dog, Up contains very little to wow the audience. The design is downright banal. There's nothing that makes me want to live in that world for the hour and a half. Furthermore, the film makes no use of its 3-D capabilities, making it seem like a gimmick and an afterthought.

I don't want to make it seem like the movie is miserable. It's not. Remember, even the weakest Pixar film (which this most assuredly is) is still better than 90% of the films that get released in any given year. Ed Asner gives a compassionate performance as Carl, and Russell is an entertaining character. The real star of the show is a fleet of talking dogs, who provide the best humor in the film. The scene where Carl first unveils the balloons that send his house flying is a showstopper, as is another scene where Carl, Russell, and their crew are escaping from a pack of angry dogs across a series of fragile rock structures. As far as family entertainment goes, this is certainly a cut above the competition, such as Monsters vs. Aliens and Night at the Museum (although I would say it pales in comparison to the stellar Coraline released earlier this year), but compared to Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, Up falls short.

UP Slide 2

It's a little hard to describe what exactly is missing from Up. Had any other studio (including Disney's main animation arm) released this film, it would probably be praised as a high water mark for that particular company. But this is Pixar, who have never released a film I'd grade less than an A-. Of course, looking at the picture's solid 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, I'm sure I'm in a very small minority by voicing this opinion. And if that's the case, then so be it. The fact is, I wanted to be enchanted by Up, but I mostly felt disappointed by the time it finishes. It's a shame that a movie called Up, while still worth seeing, can't reach the heights of Pixar's past achievements.

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