Friday, June 26, 2009

Up (2009)

Pixar singlehandedly embodies the very paradoxes of the flowering of imaginations, a notion which is commonly linked to the steady maturation of children. Simultaneously challenging itself with the stimulating, increasingly hungry idiosyncrasy tied to the best qualities of a budding abecedarian and indulging in the whimsical fantasy-land, storybook logic, and linear narratives, bustling and humming with the fervent determination of a child unwilling to retire for the evening when he or she could continue playing, Pixar is an intriguing macrocosmic extrapolation of children. Since children are the predominant target group for Pixar animation, perpetually yanking on the apparel of mothers and fathers to see the latest animated treat of the cinema, Pixar would be unwise to limit its appeal by pursuing a strictly unconventional course. Yet because Pixar promises parents an enjoyably engaging, often meaningful excursion into the luminous dreamworld of its filmmakers, those mothers and fathers are more inclined to relinquish a little of their money to attend the film than they likely are for other studios' animated fare.

Up is the latest Pixar picture, co-directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, and written by Peterson based on a short story by Peterson and Tom McCarthy, and it too holds its contradictions steadfastly. Firstly, the film is based on a short story, and at ninety-six minutes long, probably wrings and rinses as much material from that yarn as possible. Which, incidentally, helps to expose the film's most obvious flaw. Secondly, the picture is imbalanced in its morphology. The first fifteen minutes or so are sublime and practically flawless. It may almost be rightly desired that a short animated film had been made from this stitched embroidery. The opening passage of Up recalls the recent Academy Award-winning animated short film La Maison des Petits Cubes, a quietly, evocatively stirring account of a man's life, and his innate, palpable connection to his home. Up's montage of image and sound here is breathtaking; Michael Giacchino's melodious score conveys the joyfulness, sweetness and heartache which roam and rotate around one another like cars through the boulevards of life.

This haunting poignancy stalks the remainder of the picture, lurking deceptively about through the more plainly robust, temerarious convolutions of most of the film's plot. Carl Fredericksen (voiced with gusto and curmudgeonly geniality by Ed Asner) is a weary, widowed, seventy-eight year old man by the time the film's proper narrative proceeds. His dignity is stripped away from him by a callous cabal of developers—the kind of largely faceless, unstoppable force of a Madusa-headed hydra villain that usually stands in as Pixar's butter to its bread. As he watches his mailbox—with which he associates memories of his dearly departed wife—be violently pried from the ground and run over by the developers' machinery, Carl loses his composure and strikes out, resulting in his banishment to an “old folks' home,” called “Shady Oaks,” where it is unlikely that the oaks are the only things which are shady. Consequently, Carl finds himself placed in an unenviable predicament, and rather than meekly surrender to the authorities, he launches his home by allowing thousands of balloons tied to his home to take him Up.

Up eases itself into a vastly more comfortable routine at approximately this juncture, however. Tediousness creeps into the film; bland, uninteresting and poorly-motivated characters intrude upon Carl's journey to South America to fulfill a lifelong promise to his wife. Droplets of jejune frivolity would have been not only tolerable but encouraged—Pixar's filmmakers may receive almost unanimous encomiums from professional film critics, but they are probably not to be burdened with delving into Bergmanesque awakenings and reawakenings of the soul, consciousness and yearnings of the metaphysical. Up in the hands of artistic puritans would probably be a failed, 3D re-imagining of Wild Strawberries. Yet Up nearly represents base cynicism in its most forgettable moments, like the staging of an armada of carnivorous, talking dogs approximating the reward for sitting through the comparatively emotionally dire realities of life's shockingly mundane fragility.

Nevertheless, Up succeeds when it is fluently communicating through the crisp, irrefutable language of cinema, placing the viewer amidst its abundant riches with a warmth and wit of uncommon depth. Worth noting: the banal, “adult” perspective of monogamous, wedded bliss would be to linger on the Fredericksens' bed. Up establishes marriage through childlike glee and innocence, connecting the armchairs of the respective seats in which Carl and his wife so interminably sat, speaking to one another, or not speaking at all because it was unnecessary, to the resilience of lasting human relationships. The wife's childhood scrapbook. A picture of the wife. The aforementioned mailbox. An almost worthless soda bottle cap inspires selfless fealty from one spouse to another in an immeasurably beautiful, unspoken form of curiology. It is in the rapid, dazzling concatenation of images that Up periodically rebounds, finally fully lifting again as the consequences and points to the excessively busy plot finally play out.

The 3D is a pleasurable ornamentation, and works fairly well with the brilliantly colorful palette with which the Pixar filmmakers work. Giacchino's score is a standout invention, spinning untold layers of pathos to Carl's fundamentally heartwarming world. And those first fifteen minutes are worth the price of admission, beckoning beyond the final credits as an indelible cinematic montage worthy of a silent era genius. The cuts triggering humor such as child Carl having a broken arm after a dangerous fall, or despondency such as a panning shot from a hospital hallway, or simply the passage of time through a dizzying compilation of ties for adult Carl, are nothing short of exemplary. It may be a reasonable theory that even the most troubled, unattractive films have within them mini-films—moments of genuine greatness, tucked away underneath a comparative blizzard of misshapenness. There need be no exhaustive search for Up's ineffably piercing stretch of filmic harmony. However it is viewed—as a perfect short film which precedes an acceptably diverting family movie or the ideal prologue—Up's great claim to fame is its gorgeous crown jewel and mellifluously beating heart.


Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Good-Morning, Alexander,

What an excellent review of a film that I may watch when it's finally released on DVD...If it's alright with you, Alexander, may I send you, an email pertaining to this film.
Oh! Yes, this is an excellent review to read... (don't laugh!)...
While I’ am drinking orange juice and eating a croissant.
P.S.I must admit that I did have to look-up the word..."mellifluously."
Wow...If only the definition for mellifluously was pleasant to read then that word would most definitely, apply to your review of the film "Up(2009)."

Thanks for sharing!
DeeDee ;-D

Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

By the way, I did figure out how to get access to your post
(Insert blushing smiley here!) over there on that other blog.
If you, have time just check out my explanation under your post Catch me at Film For Soul.

DeeDee ;-D

Sam Juliano said...

Well Alexander, I'll meet you only half way on the 'tedious' contention in regards to the inciendary characters. The bird was rather annoying, but th edogs were more central to the film's narrative context. Still, I have praised this film relentlessly--for me it is almost the equal of WALL-E (and third among all the Pixars overall) and although I rarely link up to or use excerpts from my own reviews to supplement my arguments, I will do it in this onece instance. Here is my first paragraph lead-in to my own WitD review, that sets the stage for my enthusiastically favorable assessment:

"A silent poetic montage that opens Pixar’s latest animated offering follows Carl and Ellie–two children who develop a close friendship that leads to marriage, bliss and dreams of travel and a far away paradise in the southern hemisphere. The sequence shows both the moments of triumph and adversity and in so doing chronicles the timeless life concerns of love, loss and the passage of time. But when Ellie gets sick and passes on leaving Carl to make a fateful decision, the film segues into a fantasy inspired consciously or not by Virginia Lee Burton’s Caldecott Medal-winning picture book The Little House, which presents the life cycle of a house being implanted by industrialization, and Albert Lamorisee’s beautiful French short The Red Balloon, which features a boy whisked up into the air by colorful balloons to attain a spiritual nirvana. It’s a priceless sequence, imbued with sweet poignancy that surely ranks among the best work done in any animated film, and it’s difficult to sustain. Yet, in large measure, Up doesn’t violate the precious delicacy of its celebrated opening, and utilizes a deft combination of humor, fantasy and adventure to produce what is surely one of the studio’s three best films. (WALL-E and Ratatouille are the others). Apart from the superhero-dominated The Incredibles, this is the only Pixar movie that features human beings in the major roles."

Back to your own review, I will say that what you contend here in this passage pretty much states -superbly--my position on the lion's share of this film's running time:

"Nevertheless, Up succeeds when it is fluently communicating through the crisp, irrefutable language of cinema, placing the viewer amidst its abundant riches with a warmth and wit of uncommon depth."

The film is a reason for celebration and I'm grateful you are almost there on that count.

Again, a review of depth and perspective.

Sam Juliano said...

And Dee Dee ran a lovely post on this film two weeks ago at Noirish City!

Moses Hernandez said...

Alexander-I think you and I had almost 100% the same reactions to this movie. When it was good it was just fantastic and when it was kinda lame it was still OK but not uh UP with the rest of what they'd done.

I like the movie alright but it did have some problems. But I think you wrote a sensational review here. One of your best pieces. Very well done.

Alexander Coleman said...

DeeDee, thank you for the exceptionally kind words. I'll look for your email. Drinking orange juie and eating a croissant? Ha! Of course my review goes perfectly with that. :)

Thank you for looking up "mellifluously," and thank you again for the exceedingly kind words in relation to it. :-)

You may indeed enjoy this, DeeDee, though I fear there is little chiaroscuro, but there are menacing, talking dogs, so that counts for something, I suppose.

DeeDee, I'll be sure to take a look at your explanation ASAP!

Sam, thank you very much for the kind words and for sharing a wonderfully eloquent passage from your review. Terrific references, my friend, I actually thought of "The Little House," while watching the film a few weeks back. What a lovely connection!

Sam, we do disagree on the final status of Up--but just like last year with WALL-E, I certainly admire your inimitable passion! Thank you again.

Moses, thank you for the very kind words and for sharing your perspective here. Up was in many ways a beautiful, soaring film--both literally and figuratively--but it also suffered from too distant an excursion into simple, underwritten childrens' adventure--some of it is also wonderfully realized, but significant portions are only tiring.

Thank you once again.

Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Alexander said, "You may indeed enjoy this, Dee Dee, though I fear there is little chiaroscuro, but there...."
Ha! Ha!

Hi! Alexander,
When it comes to this film and me being an artist, I’ am only concerned with all the... technology, connected with this 3D animation.
Maybe after I watch this film
the storyline will take "precedent"(?!?) over the
3D effects.
DeeDee ;-D

Alexander Coleman said...

Naturally, DeeDee loves 3D. :-)

Alison Flynn said...

Lovely review, Alexander.

I wholeheartedly agree that the beginning of the film and the portrayal of the relationship between Carl and Ellie is absolutely sublime.

The rest of the movie was solid, with some things that could have been left out, like the bird/environmental message, but I still loved it. And I loved how Carl's connection to Ellie was still intertwined beautifully within the rest of the movie. The moment that he finally turns past the page in the scrapback that says "things I'm going to do" and sees that Ellie has filled it in and written a final message to him is a stunning, heartbreaking and touching one.

Up is not Pixar's best, in my opinion. The Incredibles and Wall*E are still my 2 top Pixars, but Up is definitely a worthy addition to Pixar's resume and one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen this year.

Alexander Coleman said...

Alison, thank you so much for that truly exquisite comment and kind words. I cannot add to or detract from it. I completely agree.

tim watts said...

Alexander, I have read almost all of your reviews and I think this is one of your very best. I almost forget at times how funny you can be. "Up in the hands of artistic puritans would probably be a failed, 3D re-imagining of Wild Strawberries." Bingo.

BUT the movie does have flaws and I can't disagree with your mixed review. Beautiful writing as always.

Alexander Coleman said...

Thank you very much, Tim. I'm humbled.

Sam Juliano said...

Ha! Let's not forget the 98% rating it is enjoying preently at RT. It's the highest rating in the history of the site! How many "flaws" can such a film have when just about every single critic nationwide feels otherwise, Tim?

Sorry for the aggressive tone, Alexander knows how I go militant in defending my favorites!!! I contend it has no flaws, and in the end it's rather a matter of taste.


oj said...

i saw you at the wheel well last night

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