I was very sceptical about Up when I first read the premise for it a few years ago: a movie about an old man who decides to flee his life by floating away in a house attached to thousands of balloons? Bleh. I remained unconvinced throughout the trailers, although by then a number of reviews had started trickling out, all glowing. Then I watched it, and the opening sequence punched me so hard the guts that I spent the rest of the movie recovering.
Pixar makes creating brilliant, heartfelt movies seem so effortless. Think about it: they’ve made people around the world sympathise with rats, have feelings for a garbage collecting robot, laugh at the monsters hiding in kids’ closests, and now they’re asking us to fall in love with Carl Fedriksen, a grumpy 78-year old man. Pixar’s secret, as Director Peter Docter reveals in an interview, comes from the advice that the late Disney veteran Joe Grant gave to him, which is that every story must be set on top of an “emotional bedrock”. That echoes the sentiments of Walt Disney, who once said “for every laugh, there should be a tear”. Considering the number of tears that Jenny shed, this is one heck of a funny movie. Me? I er, had a cold, which is why I was sniffling throughout the movie – yeah, that was it…
We saw it in 3D, paid the 3D movie tax, and received yet another pair of glasses that I’m loathe to throw away because of the wastefulness of it – there are no recycling bins for them at the Macquarie cinemas. The effect was well used, not to show things coming in and out of the screen as a lot of 3D features tend to do, but to provide depth or closeness as the emotional tone of the scene required*. Pixar doesn’t rely on gimmicks, smarts or cynicism to build a bridge with the audience, instead creating real and honest characters that you can’t help but empathise with. Like Miyazaki, they’re masters of observation as much as anything else, and you can really see parallels with reality in every animation sequence, from facial expressions to the way fog moves across the landscape. The dogs are especially hilarious, and there are a lot of little dog-jokes dotted throughout. (A little joke tip for you just in case: dogs are colour-blind.)
One thing that annoyed me though, was the voice of Russell, performed by Jordan Nagai. It can’t have been easy working with a 7-year old kid, as he was at the time (described in this interview – warning: contains spoilers) but Pixar were trying to go for youthful innocence, and I guess this is just another example of how far they’re willing to go for authenticity. Most of the time it sounded like he was reading the script, which is fair enough considering that this is his first movie voice-acting role: the story goes that he tagged along to his brother’s audition for the role of Russell, and the casting crew asked him to audition. Even though he’s never acted before he managed to endear himself enough to score the part. How jealous would the brother be!
That aside, I found the storyline to be just plausible enough, and definitely more than entertaining enough, to allow suspension of disbelief. It’s easy to criticise the physics of it if you could be bothered, but it really is incidental to the evolution of the characters. Unlike Ponyo, where the setting was just another character to be observed, the relationship between Carl and Russell takes the spotlight here, and the background remains exactly that (albeit a very beautiful one).
Pixar went to great lengths to make Up kid-friendly such as making sure that nobody dies when falling from great heights (rot13: rira gur ivyynva’f qrngu vf nzovthbhf, nf ur’f ynfg frra ubyqvat n srj onyybbaf nf ur cyhatrf qbja gb rnegu, qvfnccrnevat oruvaq gur pybhqf), but things do get quite stressful at times, if not especially scary, with one child asking to leave.
But yay! we finally got to see Pixar’s latest. It’s been out in America since May, and while there’s often a delay, we had to wait a whole 4 extra months!? The rumour going around is that the distributor wanted the run to co-incide with a school holiday, but that still doesn’t explain the staggered release dates: it was released on the 3rd in Queensland and Victoria, the 10th in South and Western Australia, and New South Wales last of all on the 17th (not sure about the rest).
Go and see it before the school holiday rush. Bring tissues.
* There’s a great little featurette about this on the official site.