Friday, May 29, 2009




The less you know about UP going into it the better. This is pretty much how Pixar has worked its past several releases. When THE INCREDIBLES came out, I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew it was something about superheroes, and critics said it was good. UP has followed a similar pre-release gameplan. Their advertising blitz has been steady, but what you get has been limited to an old man, a house and an absurd number of balloons.

This is a film that studies humanity and several of its bittersweet corners. The key themes are in place; the need to love and be loved is the main one. Taking care of others and defending one's good name also figure deeply in this film.

UP feels so un-American at points that it could be a French film with all of its whimsy but without the ridiculous slapstick and gratuitous boob-shots. The idea of travelling in a house lifted by balloons is far from the American norm.

The last time I noticed Ed Asner he was a brute in Oliver Stone's JFK. He did show up as a voice in that BOONDOCKS cartoon, but in retrospect, that show was fluff. The voice of Ed Asner is used to excellent effect for Carl Fredrickson, the old man you know from the movie poster whose house gets lifted with balloons.

Carl Fredrickson is a man who has lived a full life and, most notably, has loved and lost. The passage of film that chronicles how he met Ellie as a child and later married and lived his dream-filled life with her is constructed with care and precision. The bulk of it is a montage of snatches of life sans dialogue, and levels of emotion are conveyed that hundreds of other more serious films compressed together couldn't muster. It is a beautiful thing. I haven't been moved by any film (let alone a computerized cartoon) in the ways that this film moved me since...I can't remember when.

When tragedy strikes, Carl doesn't become a ruined man, but he is paralyzed and wary about stepping out of his comfortable heartbrokenness into something new. Carl is living in the past when Russell, a pudgy single-digit-aged "wilderness explorer" shows up on his doorstep. At this point it is rather obvious that Carl's life is about to change. The world has passed Carl by, and his humble home is surrounded by the construction of bigger, better buildings. Carl knows change is closing in on him, and he is agitated.

With an old-folks home looming in his future, thing are looking bleak. An offense to Carl's property causes him to lash out and forces the film to "get on with the balloons" that we all know will lift him out of his current situation. Up until the moment of balloon liftoff, the film sticks pretty close to realism. But after that you will need to willingly suspend your disbelief. The rest of the film enters into a land where the rules of science, gravity, and human longevity are tested.

Another thing to note is the Pixar touch to the world created in UP. UP feels like a Pixar movie. Carl is a squared-off character with angles that defy nature, just as Russell is too round. Pixar has pounded out a niche in regards to how they present the world. Characters who aren't a part of the spotlight get the same general humanoid touch, and that touch is a blanding compared to the main characters who are less real but so much more compelling. That look is so definitely Pixar it is remarkable, and it travels from film to film. The animation is perfect, and the details are so human that one has to wonder how those planning meetings went when they were deciding how to strew various objects, items and life-forms throughout the film.

Overall, the world created in UP is a very real one. It speaks to several different seasons in real-life history (prohibition being one of them), and they are all loud, crystal clear, and misrepresented only slightly to remind you that you are in an animated film. In short, Pixar has outdone itself again. This film is a triumph and a step closer to the time of CGI mastery when we won't be able to tell if the images are real or pixilated.

Finally, I have really appreciated the lack of spoilers. The most key of characters and the force driving the third act of the plot have been relatively obscured in the trailers and by reviewers and fans. This really added to my enjoyment of the film, and it should stay that way. For me to launch into the "Howard Hughes" angle of this film would be to do it a disservice. UP is a fantastic film regardless, but it really helps to go into it cold and unknowing.

More of my writings can be found here , and at the Mediasaur main page.