Up (Buena Vista Pictures, PG)

film_up_sm.jpgThis is the first Pixar movie that features real, modern humans as its main characters, and you can tell the animators put a lot of work into making them not seem too cartoony.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pixar always precedes its feature films with short films, and these short films tend to be very good. At the press screening of Up, the short film rather sucked. Then the publicist had the screening stopped because they had forgotten to show the short film, "Partly Cloudy." Uh oh. The film that I hadn’t liked was actually the feature, Up. Could it be that Pixar had finally made its bad film?

Nope. I still contend that the first ten minutes of Up are pretty weak, but it gets great, and fast. It begins as a young, aviation-obsessed boy named Carl meets a young, aviation-obsessed girl named Ellie circa the late 1930s; the focus of their obsession is a national hero named Charles Muntz, obviously modeled after Charles Lindbergh. This setup (which is the part I had the problem with) gives way to a long, elegant montage of Carl and Ellie’s 70 years together, first as friends, and then as a married couple. This montage is among the best work ever done at Pixar, and that’s saying a lot. This montage takes us to the present day, where the now 78-year-old Carl decides to float his house via helium balloons to South America in order to fulfill a long-ago promise made to his wife.

This is the first Pixar movie that features real, modern humans as its main characters, and you can tell the animators put a lot of work into making them not seem too cartoony. Carl is appropriately (and humorously) stooped, and all of the humans in the film look more like stop-motion animation done with puppets rather than humans animated with computers. Also, Up features quite a lot of dogs, and the textures on these dogs are quite astounding; while they’re still a few steps away from photorealism, I’ve still never seen anything quite like this in all of my travels in animated films (said films have long been a preoccupation of mine).

Up is full of ideas beyond merely being the first Pixar film to be screened in 3-D and the fact that the plot is like an odd cross between Indiana Jones and About Schmidt. For one thing, much of the film’s humor comes from the conceit that the dogs Carl encounters in South America have collars that translate their thoughts into speech: Halfway through fairly articulate sentences, the dog’s head will jerk to the side and its collar will blurt "Squirrel!" Or upon meeting a human for the first time, a dog’s collar will say, "I like you temporarily." This type of dogspeak is milked for all it is worth, but it never manages to get old.

Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki has long been a strong influence on Pixar’s animators, and this influence is more noticeable and on the surface in Up than it ever has been before. Of course, the concept of the self-moving house was done in Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, and Kevin, a South American tropical bird who plays a pivotal role in the story, has a personality that bears a strong resemblance to Miyazaki’s Totoro. But it isn’t like Pixar is stealing here; it’s more that they’re paying homage. And really, much as I love Miyazaki, Pixar’s track record is coming damned close to surpassing even his.

As it stands, Up is not my favorite Pixar movie; Wall-E still holds that title. But it is in the upper tier of their films (and I love every single one of them), alongside such modern classics as the two Toy Storys and Finding Nemo. And, for what it’s worth, they went back and showed "Partly Cloudy," and it’s great, too. Surprise, surprise. | Pete Timmermann

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