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.