‘Up’ is a beautiful downer you should see

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FROM JASON’S $3 CINEMA — He is not cut like Brad Pitt. He is not slick like James Bond. He is not cunning like Jason Bourne. He is not overbrimming with bravado like Indiana Jones.

No, the hero of Pixar’s stunning Up is world-weary and melancholy, sore in his bones and relying on a cane for support.

And in the first 10 minutes of Up, the animators at Pixar managed to pump so much life and loss and love into him that my wife was already bawling, and I — the hardened macho man that I am — was swallowing every two and a half seconds to keep down the aching lump in my throat.

Carl Fredrickson is the eager-eyed boy who finds true love in a young neighborhood girl. They live happily ever after together, growing old while their dreams of adventure-seeking in South American are trumped by domestic reality. When his Ellie dies, Carl uses a flotilla of helium balloons to soar his entire home to an idyllic jungle vista and live out his wife’s fantasy.

That fervent tribute to a lost soulmate would have been a terrific movie. Being infatuated with my own wife of seven years, I was entirely emotionally vested in Carl. I would be a shell without my Lisa.

But instead of telling that simple story in an appropriate 30-minute short, Pixar needed to bow to the feature-length convention and pollute its heartfelt tale with a kid-friendly cast of zany secondary characters.

There is a Boy Scout who gets roped into Carl’s adventure, along with a talking dog, a monstrous tropical bird long thought to be extinct, a geriatric and insane villain, and an army of anthropomorphized canine killers. Every single one is superfluous to Carl’s emotional journey.

There’s also a load of cheap jokes imposed on an otherwise perfect tragedy.

Look, I understand that Pixar makes money by targeting the under-12 demographic. Without the cartoonish faux-suspense and bad guys, youngsters wouldn’t be hooked and they’d lose out on ticket sales. Children certainly not going to care for a script about growing old. And in the United States, we for some reason still relegate animation to the realm of adolescents; it’s not considered a valid art form for an over-50 audience, like Up should have been tailored to.

That really annoys me.

So instead of a literary tale, we get a beautiful story watered down by sentient canines flying biplanes that shoot darts. That really happens. It’s somewhat mitigated by a nifty Star Wars reference, but it was still gratuitous.

It will make hundreds of millions of dollars for Pixar. It will also serve as the perfect example of how pandering to multiple audience demographics can sully a piece of art.

Fortunately, the visual part of the art was in no way soiled. The lighting, shadowing, and color were astounding; we saw the 2D version of Up, and even without 3D glasses it still looked like ViewMaster slides put in motion and perfect focus. The character models looked at points like real-world puppetry.

That’s a big admission coming from me, because I am typically critical of computer-generated content. But CG has certainly advanced since the days of Toy Story. Here, some of the rocky South American landscapes look photorealistic (remember how bad the same textures were back in the days of The Last Starfighter?), and praise is certainly due.

Overall, I ardently recommend Up with just those few reservations. If it doesn’t get to you, then you are either too young or Vulcan. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s a film many will pay to own on DVD, as most of the comments I heard on exiting the cinema were along the lines of, “It was terrific, but it was just too sad.”

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One Response to ‘Up’ is a beautiful downer you should see

  1. Ro says:

    Great review as always. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the movie from beginning to end, I can understand your point of view on how Pixar had to make it “kid-friendly”.

    After reading that, it reminded me of a recent podcast from The Greatest Movie EVER! about Final Fantasy. One of the things pointed out on the podcast about how the movie didn’t do so well was because America isn’t ready for serious animated features. Even though I wish this wasn’t the case, I would have to agree. Sure, a few Miyazaki movies were put in theaters, but only as special engagements in select cities across the nation.

    I think Pixar has done a decent job in introducing more adult themes in their movies compared others. However, I think this is Pixar trying to more with the medium of animated features of tailoring to adults than children. Who knows? At least we are slowly, but surely seeing more people push the medium past children. I’m definitely looking forward to Tim Burton’s 9.

    Anyways, Up is such a wonderful downer. I was bawling as well during the beginning montage and towards the end where he opened Ellie’s book and saw it was filled out. My boyfriend was hiding his tears for me a few times. Hell, I even cried during the short about the clouds, when I thought that stork left the dark gray cloud. The relationship between Carl and Ellie had hit a personal chord with me, because it reminded me of my relationship with my boyfriend. I can only hope to have a long and happy life like that, even if we don’t fully accomplish our life long dreams.

    Overall, Up is not in my top 3 of Pixar movies.

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