Details: (PG), 96 mins, In Cinemas 17 September 2009, United States, English
Synopsis: By tying thousands of balloon to his home, 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen sets out to fulfill his lifelong dream to see the wilds of South America. Right after lifting off, however, he learns he isn’t alone on his journey, since Russell, a wilderness explorer 70 years his junior, has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip.
An Up-lifting experience.
Pixar Animation Studio’s reign as the master of modern animated storytelling will remain unchallenged for some time yet, if its latest effort, Up, is any indication.
Though nowhere near as breathtakingly art-designed as Pixar’s last film – the masterpiece Wall-E – Up’s colour palette is perfectly suited to this far more gentle, and gently-told, story. One of Pixar’s strengths is the ability to recognise when less is more, despite having the tools and the talent to dazzle the eye with every new film. As its storytelling becomes more confident, its methods sublimely lean and its settings more everyday (in the case of Up, suburban Americana spanning three generations), Pixar has placed increasing value on the power of a single pixel of computer artistry. Creating worlds to the edge of the cinema screen is its craft; focusing our eyes, hearts and minds on the very centre is its art.
The opening ten minutes of Up creates an emotional bond between the audience and its lead character, Carl Frederiksen (voiced by Ed Asner), in a masterstroke of succinct, beautiful direction. Not unlike the historical prologue that kicked-off Brad Bird’s Pixar-collaboration, The Incredibles (2004), co-writer/directors Pete Docter and Bob Petersen establish a fateful link between the hero and his ultimate nemesis, eccentric explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). As a young boy, Carl idolises Dr Muntz, who mysteriously disappears after a public humiliation over his wild claims about prehistoric birds in South America. Young Carl’s hero-worship and enthusiasm for discovery is unwavering and soon leads him to a charming meeting with Ellie (Elie Docter), a fellow adventurous spirit who becomes the love of his life.
The dialogue-free sequence that follows – a three minute montage of silent era-inspired mise-en-scene, music and character interaction, chronicling Carl and Ellie’s 50 year relationship – is breathtaking in its simplicity and impact.
To this point, Up is moving, quaintly humourous and involving; with the introduction of 8 year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai), it becomes very funny. Making good on a childhood promise to Ellie, Carl undertakes a literal flight-of-fantasy and heads for the South American jungle, belatedly discovering that Russell is along for the ride (in a hilarious scene set on the verandah of Carl’s home, thousands of feet in the air). The old-young ‘Odd Couple’ banter between the inevitable friends is timed to comic perfection. Their lives and the film are enhanced further by the introduction of giant birds, talking dogs and evil octogenarians – cute and improbable, sure, but onscreen they are inspired creations, each with their own immensely satisfying character arcs.
Up has all of the virtues that are now synonymous with Pixar films (how refreshing that a production entity exists in modern Hollywood of whom excellence is routinely expected and unflinchingly delivered). The rendering of the computer imagery is complex and detailed (note the movement, colour and shading on the balloons that carry Carl’s house); the landscapes – from the scope of the South American jungle to the canvas that covers the Zeppelin airship in the film’s climax – are textured and entirely real.
But Pixar films are cherished because they inspire with their spirit, not their technology. Toy Story, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Wall-E all redefined the art of computer animation in their day, but none of that matters now – they are family favourites because, like the best of Disney’s golden era, they embrace, engage, enthrall and entertain.
Up is as good as anything Pixar has produced, better than most. It is a film that constructs characters defined by love and the power it holds to inspire; of the importance of having dreams, but also of letting them go; and of the joy to be found in life itself if you just commit to living it. As the title suggests, Up soars, and gloriously so, especially in its most grounded moments.
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