Saturday, May 30, 2009

Movie Review: Up

Honestly, I wonder what it must be like for employees of Fox Animation or Dreamworks to watch a Pixar movie. I suspect it must be difficult. Perhaps they don't go at all. Or maybe, they run home, eyes still wet with tears, to - once again - send Pixar their resumés.

Before I begin the actual review, I should mention that I opted to see Up in 2D, rather than wait an extra hour for the 3D presentation. I may elect to see it a second time in the alternate format, but for now I'll be considering the two dimensional presentation.

A while back, I estimated that Up would impress ninety-four percent of film critics, a prediction which is close to accurate. At present, it's obtained a rating of ninety-eight percent on Rotten Tomatoes. There is no sense in bragging about this, however, as only one Pixar movie currently resides below ninety, and that's Cars.

It likewise seems somewhat passé to state that I liked Up, or even that I loved it. It is a Pixar film, and Pixar produces exclusively good movies. Let us move on.

The first observation I would make is this: of all the films they've made, Up may provide the clearest example of what Pixar is. Indeed, Up feels more akin to Pixar's animated shorts than it does to any of the company's previous full length films. The movie, in a way, distills the essence of Pixar. And, apparently, Pixar is a blend of Tex Avery and Miyazaki, served with a slice of classic adventure.

Pixar is, in short, a factory of dramatic whimsy, and Up is their latest creation.

In terms of their previous films, it should be classified with their smaller, more personal stories, such as Monsters Inc. and Ratatouille. While there may be epic qualities to these pictures, the stakes - and, for the most part, the dangers - are lower than what you've seen in Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and The Incredibles.

Likewise, Up feels fundamentally contained. There are relatively few settings. In the trailers, you've doubtlessly seen the large bird, the talking dog, two old men, one boy, a house, some balloons, and a dirigible. These are, more or less, the sum total of elements to the picture. But from these disjointed concepts, Pixars has crafted a strikingly touching movie.

There are numerous qualities which make Up work as well as it does. The characters are, without exception, fantastic, as is the voice acting. Stylistically, this is the most cartoony picture Pixar has made; in terms of the emotional engagement, it is among the most mature. Make no mistake: employees of rival animation studios will not be the only ones shedding tears. Pixar has never shied away from traumatizing its audience. Think back to the opening of Finding Nemo. Think about Bambi's mother and Old Yeller. Up provides a new addition to this list of traumatic moments. Consider yourself forewarned.

But, like Finding Nemo, Up offers therapy as well as emotional strain. There are no shortage of gags and jokes. The movie does an admirable job balancing slapstick and drama. Yes, you will laugh, you will cry, and, as always, you will thank Pixar for the experience.

The animation is topnotch, as always, though I can think of no moments which represent a major departure or technical innovation. But fear not: the script is somewhat more notable. In every Pixar movie I've seen, there has been at least one scene or exchange of dialogue which felt forced or unnecessary. In The Incredibles, it was the "I don't know what will happen" moment right before the final robot battle. In Finding Nemo, it was the "I don't want to forget"/"I do" exchange. While these moments certainly don't prevent me from loving the films, they were scenes that felt forced and perhaps even sappy.

But nothing in Up seemed out of place. I can't think of a single emotional moment or line that felt inappropriate or wrong. Perhaps later viewings will cause me to reconsider, but, on some level, this may be the closest to perfection that Pixar has achieved.

This doesn't make Up my favorite Pixar movie, however: The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Monsters Inc. all trump it, and Ratatouille is right on the edge. But whatever my presences, Up has fewer flaws than any of these. Indeed, there are few movies in the history of film, I suspect, with so few missteps.

I've been pondering how to conclude this, and it is possible that I am growing soft. Nonetheless, Up has a certain emotional resonance that can't be discarded or ignored. Take your pick: Finding Nemo, Wall-E, or any other Pixar film. Up, I think, is their equal, at least objectively. It's also a beautifully crafted celebration of life, as uplifting as it is heart wrenching.

But then, it is a Pixar film. What did you expect?

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