Sunday, April 1, 2012

Movie – Up (2009)

The movie Up is only the second animated movie to ever be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (the first was 1991’s Beauty and the Beast).  Up was one of the first to receive a nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  It ended up losing to The Hurt Locker in both categories.  It did win two Oscars: one for Best Animated Film and one for Best Score.  Up is a really beautiful film, not just in regards to the animation, but in regards to the story, too.  It has a mostly silent opening 10 minutes showing the life of the main character and his wife, from the time they are children, to the time that the wife passes away.  This sequence is very moving and is the finest opening to an animated film that I have ever seen.  The rest of the film is just as good.  This is a truly wonderful film.

Carl Fredricksen (voice of Ed Asner) and his wife Ellie always dreamed about going to see Paradise Falls in South America.  (It is modeled after Angel Falls in Venezuela – the highest waterfall in the world.)  As we see in the opening to the film, life has ways of interrupting your plans.  The two never do end up being able to travel there.  After the opening we meet the now elderly Carl, alone since Ellie passed away.  His home is surrounded by construction on all sides.  He is the last holdout in the neighborhood.  He has become a sour, grumpy, old man.

One day a boy named Russell (voice of Jordan Nagai) knocks on his door.  Russell is a Wilderness Explorer Scout (think “Boy Scout”) and he is hoping to earn a badge for helping an elderly person.  Needless to say, the sourpuss Carl isn’t thrilled by being called old, no matter how accurate it may be.  He tricks Russell into searching for “snipes” as a way to help him and earn the badge.  After Russell leaves Carl gets into an argument with a construction foreman (voice of John Ratzenberger, who has been in every Pixar film).  This argument escalates to Carl hitting the foreman with his cane.  This gives the construction company the excuse to get Carl declared a danger to himself and others.  In the morning he is going to be taken away.

The next morning, though, Carl shows he is still very resourceful.  All of a sudden thousands of helium balloons spring out of the chimney and top of the house.  While everyone looks on stunned, the house lifts off its foundation and starts to float away.  Makeshift sails appear out of the upstairs windows and Carl proceeds to sail his house south.  In case you are wondering, Carl had been a balloon salesman when he was younger, so that’s where he got all the balloons and helium.  That’s not a goof, but someone with too much time on their hands actually calculated the relative weight of his house and the relative lifting capacity of each balloon, multiplied it by the tens of thousands of balloons animated and determined that there were not enough to have lifted the house.  Everyone else just enjoyed the animation in that sequence.

Once Carl floats away south (three guesses where he is headed), he settles down to have some peace and quiet.  Suddenly he hears a knock on his door.  He is in disbelief, but opens the door.  He finds young Russell on his porch, scared out of his wits.  Russell had come back that morning to search for snipes under the porch.  Even though the last thing Carl wants is a talkative kid around, he pretty much has to let him in.  In a darkly funny moment he briefly fantasizes about “returning” Russell.

They make their way to Paradise Falls in South America and settle the house down at the top of them.  They meet a talking dog named Dug (voice of co-writer and co-director Bob Peterson).  Dug can talk because his master built a voice box that he wears.  This character becomes the biggest comic relief in the film.  If you ever wondered what a dog was thinking, you find out from this film.

Russell runs into a giant bird and befriends him by sharing his candy with it.  Convinced it is the “snipe” Carl asked him to search for he brings it back with him.  Carl is even less happy to now have a child, a talking dog, and a giant bird tagging along on what was going to be his solo adventure.  He does get what appears to be good news, though, when he finds his childhood hero Charles Muntz (voice of Christopher Plummer).  Muntz had taken his zeppelin to South America in search of a fabled giant bird that he claimed existed.  He lost his prestige and he swore he would never return until he had his proof.  Many decades later he is still there, trying to capture “the beast”.  During that time he has trained a number of dogs to take care of everything for him and invented talking devices for them. 

After Muntz’s initial happiness at meeting someone who looked up to him, he becomes suspicious of Carl.  He begins to think that Carl is there to steal his discoveries and claim them for himself.  It’s not long before Carl and Russell have to try to escape.  What follows are a series of great action scenes and comedic scenes, including a literal “dog fight” in the air.

As I mentioned above, the animation is superb.  The character of Carl is based on Spencer Tracy’s image, but the animators took it further.  Carl is all square and rectangular shaped, from his head, to his glasses, to his hands.  Everything is rigid and defined.  Russell, on the other hand, is all circles.  He is chubby, has a round face, hands, etc.  The two are literally opposites, not just in personality, but in how they appear on screen.  Despite their differences they start to bond.  In a way, I’m sure Russell reminds Carl of how his wife Ellie was when they first met as children.  Both humor and feeling are generated from Carl and Russell as they share this adventure. 

Ed Asner does a great job as the voice of Carl.  Frankly, I can’t think of anyone better whose voice would be recognizable and would instantly convey everything you needed to know about Carl’s attitude.

The one complaint I had with the film was the character of Charles Muntz.  Actually, “complaint” is too strong a word.  Maybe “lack of believability” is better.  And yes, I realize I just used that phrase in connection with a movie about a man who uses thousands of balloons to float his house to South America where he meets a giant bird and a talking dog.  I’ll explain.  We see Carl as a boy watching a movie news serial about Muntz, who is already in his late 20s or 30s.  In the present Carl is an elderly man.  That makes Muntz somewhere between 90 and 110 when we meet him.  While people do live to those ages, they had Muntz doing things that physically just weren’t believable, especially since they employed a joke where both Carl and Muntz are cracking their backs and joints the first time they try to fight each other.  In the overall scheme of things, though, Muntz’s age is a very minor “complaint”.

Bob Peterson’s partner on the writing and directing was Pete Doctor, who had written WALL-E, and directed Monsters, Inc.  Peterson was also a Pixar veteran, having written Finding Nemo.  The two combined their skills and the result is a movie that is funny, touching, exciting, and all around entertaining.  Even if you think animated movies are “just for kids” you should see this film.  I give it my highest recommendation.

Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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  1. Nice review, Chip! I agree about the opening sequence...Heartbreaking, riveting stuff. I enjoyed the rest as well.

    I love films that have a sense of wonder, and Up has it in spades.

  2. I love Up. It made me cry...sort of like the incinerator scene is the last Toy Story...and this is always an indicator that a film is good!

  3. I don't care what anybody says, but this movie made me cry and if any movie can make me do that, it's a solid 10/10 in my book. Great everything here. Good review Chip.

  4. Great review. This is one of my favorite animated pictures.

  5. @Barry P. - I completely agree. Thanks.

    @Kim Wilson - I agree on both scenes. I also gave Toy Story 3 five stars.

    @Dan O. - Thanks. I agree that a film that can do that is definitely a powerful one.

    @Dave Enkosky - Thanks. Mine, too.

  6. Nice thourough review Chip. I think Muntz had sold his soul to the devil and that was how he lived that long. Honestly, that part did confuse me a bit as well.

    I enjoyed Up quite a lot and Adam Jr. really liked it as well which I think is the best part about these films.

  7. @threeguys1movie - I agree. Up, and most Pixar movies, are ones that are not dumbed down for kids, so the result is both they and their parents can enjoy them.