Movie Review: Pixar’s ‘Up’ soars in 3-D

1 Jun

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Pixar’s Up is a grand adventure and a heart-warming drama that reaches new emotional heights for the animated film team. It’s not surprising that Up works as a superb family entertainment; after-all Lasseter and gang have yet to really miss. What is surprising is that Up, similar to last year’s brilliant Wall-E, manages to raise the bar for Pixar and gives us a film that exceeds both our expectations and the boundaries of its own premise. Like its protagonist Carl Fredrickson, Up takes off early and heads into the stratosphere, floating with ease for its entire running time and finally coming down to bask in the glow of the voyage.

For Pixar, Up marks a more adult journey than its predecessors. After Toy StoryA Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2,  Pixar had cornered the market on wonderful children’s films that appealed to both young tykes, their parents and everyone else in between. However, they were still, essentially, “kid’s films’. With Monster’s Inc. this began to change. The world of Monsters was a complete original and it took childhood imagination and married it to working class comedy and embedded something at the heart; a parent/child bond between Sully and little Boo. It was an enticingly complex and poignant relationship for a mere children’s film and it signified the move to a broader genre camp–the ‘family’ film. Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo boldly launched the company forward into that kind of family epic, and Brad Bird improved it with The Incredibles. And then, using the enjoyable Cars as a transition piece, the Pixar films changed. Ratatouille, Wall-E and now Up all share the fact that they don’t have a simple or easily marketable idea at their core; a rat who wants to be a French chef, a little worker robot who doesn’t speak and spends the first half of the movie puttering around an abandoned Earth, and now, the story of an old curmudgeon sailing his house to South America via thousands of balloons anchored through his chimney.

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 The new Pixar films aren’t limited to being simply kiddie or family pictures but are capable of functioning simply as ‘good movies’. Up(directed by Monsters helmer Pete Doctor) is like that, starting with an emotionally charged set-up and moving into a captivating lost world adventure worthy of a 30’s fantasy serial.  The animation has reached such a level of sophistication that Pixar can combine stylized representations with nearly photo-real imagery and it all blends together perfectly. Some of the visual enchantments include a floating house lifted into the sky by thousands of shimmering balloons, a massive air-ship releasing canine-piloted planes, and characters who represent their own brand of animated evolution; an old man squared down by age and experience and a small, round little asian boy who has yet to encounter the defining and shaping events of life. All of it looks spectacular and there is a mesmerizing beauty to the soaring sky sequences and the passages that occur in South America.

Up’s strongest feature is the writing and character development. Carl Fredrickson is an old, house-bound widower who has ceased making contact with the outside world. The house that he bought and fixed up with his loving wife is still intact, but all around high-rises and skycrapers have cropped up and businessman are pursuing Carl’s property. Shortly after meeting the young and determined Russel, an overweight and clingy boy scout, Carl is faced with the possibility of losing his  house and all the memories of his beloved wife along with it. His solution is the massive clot of balloons he attaches to the house which propel it airborne, tearing it from its foundation and floating away towards Paradise Falls, a lost world in South America that he and his wife had long dreamed of going to.

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 To say more of the journey, or how exactly Carl and Russell happen to be stranded in the floating house together would be to rob the film of some of its best moments. What is important is the way in which the filmmakers imbue Carl with a heartfelt quest and a desire to have one more great adventure for the sake of his wife. Their relationship is presented to us in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, when a young boy meets a hyperactive tomboy dreaming of far-off lands and exciting travel. That fifteen minutes, nearly as silent as the early parts of Wall-E, are the most emotional of the film; I was in tears half-way through. Ed Asner as Carl brings a weight to the role that carries all of that emotional currency with him through the fast-paced adventure segments. Russell, the little boy that accompanies Carl is primarily a bundle of energy but his home life has issues and he has latched onto this old man in a way that forces Fredrickson to consider something besides his own loneliness for the first time in years.

The theme of Up is refreshing as well. In the face of time and tragedy, which moments of our life are the ones that gave it meaning? The wide-eyed thrills or the smaller pieces? What Up does is give care and craft to both; the human drama is stronger here than it is in any ten live-action Hollywood dramas. The adventure in South America has a high-flung, good natured excitement to it and the action scenes in the air are far more rousing than anything in the last Indiana Jones film.

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How about the 3-D? For the first time, I was enthralled by its use. When it requires dropping an extra four dollars to see a film in three dimensions instead of two, it really needs to work if I’m going to recommend seeing something that way. I totally recommend Up in 3-D. Instead of focusing on a series of “set pieces’ the animators have  painstakingly designed each sequence of Up in a way that it immerses the viewer into the world of the movie. The 3-d only accentuates and deepens this immersion. Whether its seeing Carl’s house sail under darkening storm clouds or watching Russell dangle thousands of feet above the jungle, the 3-D opens up the animated world like a cinematic version of a pop-up book. There is a weight and texture to the flawlessly concieved art.

In any form, Up is worth a look. It stands at the forefront of this year’s most ambitious movies and so far it’s the best.

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One Response to “Movie Review: Pixar’s ‘Up’ soars in 3-D”

  1. Cameron Smith November 24, 2009 at 6:46 am #

    This is a quality film, i recomend it BUT it looses something if u dont watch it in 3d

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