Friday, May 29, 2009

Go See Up

It is a risky thing to make five of the major characters in your movie old. Carl Frederickson is old. His house is older. His hero, Charles Muntz, is older than Carl, maybe younger than the house. Muntz' blimp is an anachronism flying straight out of a 1930s newsreel. And Elie Frederickson is so old, she's dead.

No matter. With this cast of characters, Pixar Animation Studios shows off its maturity and, again, scores a big hit that out-Disneys Walt Disney. I have to say that if Disney's films as represented by the dreck we saw advertised before "Up" unspooled are going in that vein, then Pixar is the one spot in the studio where Walt's spirit resides.

Pixar, obviously, possesses strength in computer animation. But its greatest strength still lies in its storytelling. With the wordless fifteen-minute exposition we get to Carl and Elie's life together, I cried. With Carl's introduction to Russell, the overager Wilderness Explorer bent on earning his Assisting the Elderly badge, we get a concise introduction to Carl's character as an irascible, lonely man, and Russell's endearing, clueless innocense.

And with Carl's house, festooned with balloons or threatened by modern development, we get a visceral connection to the past and a reminder that, after all, it's life that's worth living and that the things we possess are "just a house."

I have to count the house and blimp as characters, because they represent the object that drives both of these explorers. Muntz, driven by past humiliation, clings to the past in the hopes of rehabilitating his reputation, and he needs the blimp to do it. Carl, driven by grief, clings to the past in the hopes of fulfilling and promise, and he needs his house to do it. I won't reveal more because I'd rather not ruin your experience with spoilers. Just go see this film.

For casting, Pixar again excels. Christopher Plummer is perfect as the aged, creepy Muntz, and Ed Asner, who still has that Lou Grant bark and bulldog jowl, is perfect for Carl Frederickson.

For music, again Pixar relies on Michael Giacchino, who adds the emotional and dramatic spice to this film. The soulful piano piece that plays throughout the exposition is evocative of a life well-lived, topped by regret over dreams unfulfilled.

And for effects -- I've heard some grumble that Pixar didn't do anything "new" in the film, as they did in past films -- notably with Sully's fur in "Monsters Inc." Wrong. Watch the clouds. Watch them closely. They part, they reflect, they absorb, they cling, they menace, they embrace, they're fluffy, white and enchanting, they're black and menacing. Don't tell me Pixar didn't try anything new.

1 comment:

carl g said...

Totally agree. Brilliant, even if not quite perfect. Wall-e still beats it, even if not by far. Unfortunately, the next Pixar movie is (I think I read somewhere) Toy Story 3. It'll make a lot of money, but The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-e and Up all broke the mold, which TS3 will not do.