Thursday, June 4, 2009

Film Review: Up

Directed by Pete Docter
Released May 29, 2009

Pixar’s latest release is being hailed almost unanimously as its best effort to date, and rightly so. It’s hard to believe anything could top the animated offerings of the past two years, “Ratatouille” and “Wall-E,” but it appears that’s happened. What’s truly fantastic is that, even after all the hype, “Up” really is a terrific, wonderful film.

“Up” follows in the tradition of “Wall-E” as a quiet, mature production with just the right tinge of fantasy to drive its story forward. In its first few minutes, it weaves a heartbreaking story about a couple’s entire lives, favoring images and music over words, much like the famed no-dialogue start of “Wall-E” did. It’s a fabulously sentimental beginning, and fifteen minutes in, a wonderful story has already been told, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for one grumpy old man headed for adventure.

“Up” is very much like a children’s version of Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino.” A recently widowed gruff elder cannot stand his daily life and the careless way in which his neighbors treat his once-fabled street. He is pestered by a friendly young kid who just wants to do something nice for him, and he can’t accept the friendly gesture. While Clint stuck around and faced racial tensions and gang violence, Mr. Fredricksen, the protagonist of “Up,” decides to fulfill his lifelong dream of traveling to a legendary locale in South America, and goes out in style. Clint may have had a nice car, but Mr. Fredricksen takes his whole house with him on his journey, courtesy of a whole bunch of balloons.

There’s just the right amount of fantastical elements driving “Up” to make it heartwarming and endearing without becoming overbearing or senseless. Kids will be amused by the dogs with collars that enable them to talk and get distracted by the frequent sight of a squirrel. Adults will watch in awe as Mr. Fredericksen pulls his house by the balloons to place it in the exact spot he and his late wife always dreamed of living. The story is reminiscent of so many things at once – this is the best flying house since “The Wizard of Oz,” except this time the hero is in control of where he’s headed. The film’s title is also very appropriate, and Mr. Fredericksen’s lost childhood aviation hero has a story that recalls Amelia Earhart. The balance of youthful humor and adult themes of adventure and exploration is extremely impressive, though it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen Pixar’s previous films.

It’s hard to find much to complain about regarding “Up.” The film is entirely engaging and bounces along to a wonderfully inspiring score. The 3-D version doesn’t appear to add much, but the illusion of flying in the clouds is wholly worthwhile. Additionally, recent 3-D releases have too much emphasized the effects and made the movie seem trivial and empty (see: “Beowulf”). That’s not a problem here, and the already wondrous ride is likely all the more enchanting seen bursting out of the screen. “Up” is a very simple film, and its story can easily be summed up in a few sentences, but it’s a heartwarming journey that won’t disappoint.



Robby said...

Loved the movie. Highly recommend.

G1000 said...

Terrific film. I'd rate it behind only "Nemo", "Incredibles", and "WALL-E" in my Pixar pecking order.

One thing though: how is it only a B+, after your rave review? Seems like it should be at least an A- (if not an A). Just curious.

Movies with Abe said...

G1000, that's an interesting point. I actually pondered for a while about what grade to give the movie. It seems I'm a strict grader, and I gave both "Wall-E" and "Ratatouille" a B+. I personally think it's on par with or even a better than those two films, and I couldn't find very much wrong with it, it didn't completely move me to amazement, unlike, say, recent A- films ("Slumdog Millionaire") or A films (Waltz with Bashir).

G1000 said...

Fair enough. I personally thought the film was techinically and aristically brilliant, as well as being emotionally compelling and entertaining. I'd give it an A, but I see where you're coming from.