November 21, 2009

#049: Up

The most recent addition to Pixar's beloved lineup is heralded as the best yet. I would definitely not go that far, but I will agree that Up was a really good movie. I don't think Pixar has ever released anything bad. Any Pixar film is head and shoulders better than the average film made these days. In this great Pixar library Up probably falls somewhere in the middle for me. It had moments of brilliance in storytelling, but as a whole just doesn't stand up to the magic of Toy Story or Finding Nemo. I had really similar reactions for both Up and last year's Wall-E. In both films there are sequences of pure genius in the first act, then the films tend to fall apart towards the middle, only to make a slight recovery at the end.  It is really difficult for me to explain why I felt Up came up short of those others, but I will try.

First lets talk about the good.  The first 20 minutes of this film are amazing.  There is almost no dialog, yet somehow we feel such a connection with the characters.  Usually montages seem forced and end up being really corny, but Up is able too pull off one of the best montages I have ever seen.  The beginning of this film feels like a fine work of art.  The creators payed so much attention to detail and every decision seemed calculated and thoughtful. It was wonderful storytelling.  Those nearly silent first 20 minutes are able to illicit more emotion than the entire rest of the film.  I wish it was able to sustain that level of feeling it had at the beginning.  Unfortunately, it wasn't able to, but then again we are talking about a kids movie here.  It didn't start out feeling like a kids movie, but it takes plenty of opportunities to remind of of that fact in the rest of the film. I didn't expect this movie to be anything more than a good animated kids movie, but after that beginning it had raised the bar.  Contrasted against the start, the rest of the film felt a bit silly.  I lost the connection I started out with.

What would The Littler Mermaid be without Ursula?  What would Aladdin be without Jaffar?  What would The Lion King be without Scar?  What would Up be without some old guy searching for a bird?  Wait! What?  Yes, the antagonist in this film is Charles Muntz, an elderly gentleman on a lifelong quest to capture a bird.  Muntz is smart enough to invent a collar that allows dogs to talk, yet he continues to live in solitude because he cannot complete this task.  He is so obsessed with getting this bird and redeeming himself that he has essentially wasted his life and lost all touch with humanity.  This can be paralleled with Carl. He feels like he wasted his life by never giving Ellie the adventure they had dreamed of as children.  Carl has started to withdraw from society. He is content with living out the rest of his life in lonely reflection on what he wasn't able to accomplish.  Unlike Muntz, it isn't too late for Carl.  Little Russel is there to renew Carl's connection with humanity, and give him something to live for.  Up is directed at children, but poses the very adult question of; "What does it mean to live a fulfilled life?"

I did really enjoy Up, while at the same time I couldn't help but feel it was missing something.  I loved the connection between Carl and Ellie that they were able to establish at the beginning.  However, the rest of the relationships don't feel as meaningful or complete.  The driving forces of the movie change and when that happened it lost some of it's heart.   I found the action sequences at the end to be boring, and just wanted to get back to story.  Those sequences made the ending feel frantic and rushed.  I know I am over thinking this movie, but it is what I do.  Despite my complaints, everybody should watch Up.  It is a really well done film that most anyone will enjoy.


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