Sunday, 25 October 2009

Review: UP

Pixar’s latest, after an interminable and, in this day and age, inexplicable delay, has finally drifted to these shores and happily I can report the wait was more than worth it. It’s been touted as their masterpiece, their finest film yet, but when a company’s output is of such a consistently high quality, it’s always bound to be a close run thing, and will more than likely come down to personal taste of whether you prefer lovesick robots, friendly sharks, or cantankerous old dreamers. “Up” though is certainly a real treat, full of action and adventure and typically brilliant characters, but as always, the laughs and thrills belie an unusually touching story, and a heartfelt message of finding friendship and redemption when least looked for. Aww.

The cantankerous geezer in question is Carl Fredricksen, who we join as a bespectacled tot in the 40’s, wide eyed in astonishment at the newsreel footage of the adventures in South America of intrepid explorer Charles Muntz. The young adventurer quickly runs into Ellie, a buck toothed tomboy who is as enamored by Muntz’s adventures as Carl, and so begins a lifelong love affair with adventure and each other. We skip through their lives together in an extraordinary montage. Forever the dreamers, they save to make their own way to south America following in the footsteps of their hero, to build their “clubhouse” atop Paradise Falls, but as with so many of our dreams and plans, they keep getting sidetracked to make way for more immediate needs. Before you know it, the pair are a grey haired couple, tragically childless and before they get a chance to make their trip together, Ellie dies, leaving Carl alone in the beloved house they shared, now surrounded by a building site. This is not, you’ll agree the usual fare for a kids movie. The montage is one of the most moving sequences seen on film in recent memory, establishing in one elegant sweep the whole raison d’etre for the main character and giving huge emotional weight to everything that follows. Yes he’s a grumpy old git, but in the context of his life and loss, you begrudge him not one moan. If only we could see the Pixar montages of real life old gits who annoy us.

If the whole thing sounds a bit heavy, things lighten up rapidly with the arrival or Russell, the wilderness scout on a quest to earn his assisting the elderly badge, with Carl firmly set in his sights as requiring assistance. Instantly adorable, the rotund camper is loved by everyone except Carl, cranky old curmudgeon as he is. Things come to a head when an incident with the encroaching builders means Carl is due to be shipped off to the retirement home and needs to think fast to avoid being dragged from his house. A balloon salesman all his life, the solution is obvious really. He attaches a million helium filled balloons to the grate of his fireplace, and floats his whole house off towards South America in a bid to fulfil Ellie’s dream. Only once airborne does he realize he’s inadvertently brought the impossibly cheerful Russell along for the ride and the pair quickly find themselves, through the magic of a Wizard of Oz style storm, actually at Paradise falls, but on the wrong side of the cliffs. A near crash landing leaves them stuck on the ground while the house floats overhead (a la “Adrift”), attached by just a hosepipe tied to Carl (a la “Diehard”), and an adventurous walk ensues. Along the way the pair pick up some more companions, Kevin the colorful chocolate loving bird – if you can class a 12 foot multicolored monster as a bird, and of course, Dug the Dog. An instant classic, Dug is the dopey mutt with a translator collar that gives him voice – anyone who has ever imagined what their dog is thinking will probably recognize a lot of his lines, and so amusing is he as a character it may prompt you to throw “squirrel!” into many conversations. Try it at work, see what happens. The quartet get themselves into all sorts of bother when it emerges that Kevin is in fact the monster of Paradise Falls that Muntz was seeking all those years ago, and in fact still is, aided by his pack of speaking hunting dogs, of which Dug is the abject failure, being as he is soft and cuddly, while top dog “Alpha” and his ilk are all slathering bullies, albeit with hilarious malfunctioning voices. Yes once Muntz gets wind of Carl and his companions the race is on, and Carl has to make some tough decisions about where his loyalties lie; fulfilling his beloved Ellie's dream or looking towards the well being of his troublesome new companions.

This is perhaps Pixar’s most personal movie, dealing as it does with the biggest of issues; how we live our lives, the dreams we strive for that seem impossible to reach, and finding redemption and friendship in the last place you look. The relationship between the old man and the wilderness scout is subtle and complex; throughout we learn that Russell’s Dad is less than perfect, and Russell’s real motivation for getting his wilderness badges is to seek his approval. Likewise, as the story develops, Karl learns to let go of his dead wife’s dream, and move on to the next adventure; life goes on and so must he. Again, sounds terribly heavy, but remember this story is told in the context of thrilling action set-pieces interspersed with lashings of brilliant slapstick from the hapless Russell. And the talking dogs, don’t forget the talking dogs. UP does however manage to get itself a little tangled in the telling as a result. A lot of the plot itself hinges on the least interesting character, the gormless Kevin, and Muntz as a villain is no great shakes – I found myself equally sympathetic to that poor mad old geezer who after a lifetime of trying to restore his good name is vanquished and (dare I say it) murdered by these meddling invaders! Poor guy, so much for his dream.

Snagged strings aside though, Up is a delight. Full of imagination that is so natural it can almost get overlooked, this is a story about a man who with nothing to live for floats his house away with balloons. Brilliant. The film is visually fantastic, each character a lovingly crafted caricature, and the level of detail and artistry on display, brought to life by the subtly immersive 3D, is staggering. But as with any Pixar movie, the story is key, and on the whole they have another winner. From an unlikely and unusual subject matter, they spin a yarn with real emotional clout that has messages for every viewer of every age – an extraordinary feat in itself – but to twist it into a thrilling action adventure comedy? Masterful.

Treehouse Rating:


Another brilliant and touchi- SQUIRREL!!


Tina said...

Adored Up and glad to have found your site. Good work.

Munial said...

Thanks Tina, and welcome!

S1nnerman said...

I saw UP on the plane - the story started really well. I loved it and then it sort of moved away from a touching story into a bit of a farce. Not the best Pixar has to offer but not a bad way to kill time.

Katie said...

UP is my favorite all-time movie!
Who doesn't dream of floating in a house with balloons to a far off land?