Saturday, December 26, 2009

Floating Away - My review of Pixar's Up

Critics of Pixar's films have commented that it is the use of stock characters that bring them such success, implying that Pixar's consistently entertaining animated features are not that unique after all. Up, however, rises above that criticism - high above it. It is not just that it is the first Pixar film that made it to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival that sets Up apart from the usual animated fare; it's the beautiful love story that develops as a backdrop to the main story. It is this love story that makes us ache for the protagonist to reach his brave goal.

The story centers around Carl Fredrickson (the voice of Ed Asner), beginning with his early life. In the first scenes of the movie, we see Carl watching wide-eyed in a theater as news of a famous explorer named Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) flashes across the screen. Carl is an avid Muntz fan - we see him wearing the same goggles his hero wears in each reel. In the next scene, he's playing by himself when he meets another Muntz fan. Her name is Ellie and she's an excitable redhead who likes Carl right away. What follows is both an homage to classic films and a beautiful, heart-wrenching love story told in silent images: Ellie and Carl grow up together, get married and face both hardship and splendor. In the end of the montage, Carl is left alone with only his house and the things that remind him of Ellie. As construction workers drill and turn up the land around his little house, Carl locks the world out. When the world comes knocking, an unfortunate accident lands him in court. Facing an order to leave his house and move to a retirement community, Carl takes matters into his own hands instead - he uses helium to blow up thousands of colorful balloons that pull his house up from its foundation and take it to the skies.

It is in this unlikely hero that Pixar creates what is most definitely (and defiantly) their most original, vibrant and overall, wonderful film yet. It is Carl's pain and his desire to be left alone that drive him initially, but as the story progresses, it is love and friendship that come to make all the difference in his life. As his house soars above the clouds, Carl thinks he'll be left alone with his memories of Ellie, to make it to the South American paradise they dreamed of before life got in the way. However, he has a stowaway - a hefty boyscout named Russell who, though annoying, turns out to be a good kid who just wants his father's attention. Their adventure brings them face-to-face with giant birds, talking dogs and even Fredrickson's childhood hero.

The colors of the movie are rich and each moment is so pure and perfect. If you think it's true that Pixar's characters are recycled, please note: their characters are so realistic and familiar that they work. And if audiences care about your characters, that's half the battle.

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