Friday, May 29, 2009

Up (***1/2)

Directed by Peter Docter


Every once in a while, there comes a film so beautifully made and told in such a heartfelt fashion that it will lead even the most emotionally-reserved toward their catharsis. Up, the new film from the most consistently brilliant film studio in the country--Pixar--is one of those films. Much in the style of their other films WALL-E and The Incredibles, Up does not pander toward its target audience (small children along with their parents), but instead plans to enlighten them and mystify them.

When Carl Fredricksen was a young boy, he dreamed of adventure. Along with his childhood friend Ellie, he looked up to world-traveler Charles Muntz, who explored the grounds of Venezuela searching for a mysterious beast. When Muntz is accused of being a fraud, he flees back to the wilderness, never to be seen again. For Carl and Ellie though, their mutual infatuation with Muntz was the beginning of a quickly blooming relationship, which lead to marriage and a fulfilling life.

The two keep collecting money so they can one day travel to South America, but life continues to get in the way. A tire blows out; they take money from the collection. Carl breaks his arm; they take money from the collection. Time goes by, and the correct opportunity never presents itself. Eventually, when they are both elderly, Ellie passes away and Carl is left alone inside their dream home, with land developers constantly pressuring him to sell it and move into an old folks' home.

Unwilling to be bossed around, Carl ties billions of helium balloons to the chimney of his home, and begins his flight to South America. He is unexpectedly joined by Russell, a toddler boy scout, looking to help out the elderly in order to get his final scout badge. The two land in Venezuela, but still have a ways to walk before they can get to the waterfall Carl always dreamed of taking Ellie. They run into a large, colorful bird, which Russell names Kevin. They meet a talking dog named Doug (his collar is super smart and can express his simple thoughts). They also run into Muntz, who is still exploring the jungle to prove he isn't fraudulent.

With its sparse 96-minute running time, the only complaint that I really have with this film is that it isn't long enough. The film's conclusion happens so quickly and so conveniently, that you're disappointed that you can't spend more time with these characters. Carl, in particular, is a fascinating person. With his About Schmidt groan and box head, Carl brings an interesting theme of mortality to this supposed kids' film, and it is this depravity that always separates Pixar from the other studios.

Oh, and the colors. Finding Nemo was praised for its palette, but what this film does is fascinating. The wilderness is so bright and beautiful, while Carl's home interior is bland and various shades of grey, and then there's the inside of Muntz' masterpiece zeplin, so dark with the only color coming from the orange of dim light. These films always have magnificent production design and cinematography, but never get the recognition they deserve in those categories (or any category, for that matter) because it's animation.

The evolution of the relationship between the naive Russell and the grumpy Carl makes the foundation for the film's story. Most scripts in this position would give the child unwarranted wisdom, which leads the main character to discover his inner crabbiness. Not so here. Russell, I assume to be about four-years-old and Asian-American, is friendly, brave, and gregarious, but not wise. They grow together because of their human qualities, not because they're teaching each other anything.

I feel I've spoken rather clumsily about this film. Surely, it's the first film I've seen since The Soloist, and I've been out of practice in my writing, but if there is anything that I wished to convey about this picture, it is this: it is an absolutely beautiful film for people of all ages. With its talking dogs and personable birds, its sure to send the kids into a tizzy, but its the unrelenting drive of Carl (and his unavoidable parrallel toward his idol Muntz) that makes this film memorable.

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