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February 11, 2010

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Movie Review – Up (2009)

by NIR SHALEV

Ever since Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) was a little boy, he was obsessed with flying. He’d always looked up to his hero Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who’d flown in a giant dirigible to a far off land in search of proof that he’d once discovered a new species. While playing at being the great explorer Muntz, Carl one day met another young explorer named Ellie. Over the years Carl and Ellie become best friends, lovers, and eventually spouses. They’d lived together for all of their lives, then just as Carl had been reminded of his and Ellie’s desire to be actual explorers, Ellie suddenly passed away. Devastated, Carl continued to live alone. It’s a grown-up beginning, but Pixar never, not once forgets that this film is a family oriented comedy.

Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai) is a very young boy scout who knocks on Carl’s door one day and offers his assistance to him. Carl dismisses Russell and then dismisses the entire world by unleashing thousands of balloons into the air, all tied to the inside of his chimney. His house is lifted up from the ground and Carl is on his way to South America to fulfill his and Ellie’s forgotten dreams. Unfortunately, Russell was still standing on Carl’s front porch when the house took flight and now must be a part of Carl’s adventure.

Having reached their intended destination in South America, Carl and Russell travel by foot over an immense, high plateau, pulling the floating house with them every step of the way. They come across a strange, large dodo-like animal that Russell names Kevin, and which follows them everywhere they go; dogs with collars that transmit their thoughts in human speech; and, eventually Muntz himself, who’d been living there for decades. Muntz becomes the film’s evil antagonist once he realizes that Kevin’s the bird he’d been searching for all of his life, while Carl and Russell try everything they can to protect Kevin.

Essentially, everything in this film works. The screenplay is heavily layered with no loose ends, the music and sound effects are great, the voice acting is perfect and convincing, the animation and graphics are truly astonishing, and above all this film’s got heart. Hayao Miyazaki’s Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli has been Pixar’s main inspiration for as long as the studio’s been around. Now with Up Pixar’s again borrowed heavily from Miyazaki by building the film around themes that audiences of all ages can relate to. They’ve also, once again stepped it up in the “tugging on your heartstrings” arena.

The characters’ ever-developing stories are the most brilliant aspect of the screenplay: Carl is dragging the memory of Ellie with him everywhere he goes, in the form of their house; Russell’s father never visits him and so Carl becomes his father figure; Kevin is actually a female who’s trying to find her babies; and Muntz is just plain evil. For over 50 years, he’d been waiting for Kevin to fall into his lap so that he could go back home and present his discovery. All that time, he’d been living inside his dirigible situated inside a giant cave and surrounded by hundreds of obedient dogs as company and as slaves. The third act does contain plenty of action, but it’s very well handled and serves the story well.

When Pixar unveiled Toy Story in 1995 they were laughed at by Disney, their parent company when they’d announced that they’d be sticking to making only 3D animated movies; they claimed that it’s the future of animation. Fast forward 15 years and Pixar has won almost 40 Academy awards for short and feature-length films in the Best Animated Film category, sound design and mixing, screenplays, and original scores and songs. This film is nominated for five Academy awards including Best Animated Feature Film and Best Picture, the first Pixar film to be nominated in that category.

This film made me cry more than once and it was never manipulative. The most touching aspects of the film are showcased through visual and physical expressions, a great lesson Pixar had also taught with their previous masterpiece Wall-E. A movie is simply a string of images showcased in 24 frames per minute. Pixar uses the oldest tricks in the book, going back to the golden years of the Silent Era in conveying a story mostly with images and as little words as possible. Buster Keaton, Charles Chaplin, and yes, Miyazaki’s films are the biggest inspirations that make this film a masterpiece that stands alone and that will stand the test of time. Up will always be charming, great looking and touching.

4 stars


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Read reviews of some of the other animated feature films released in 2009:

9
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Monsters vs. Aliens
Ponyo
The Princess and the Frog

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    Feb 11 2010

    Add Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World to the list of biggest inspirations. Carl and Russell’s adventure in Muntz’s “lost world” is a delightful homage to Doyle’s story and its great silent film adaptation.

    The wordless opening sequence showing Carl and Ellie’s life together is almost too wonderful – the filmmakers set themselves a real challenge, to make a film that could live up to that opening!

  2. Nir Shalev
    Feb 12 2010

    You’re right and perceptive about Conan Doyle’s Lost World being a great inspiration. And you should watch the special features on the Blu-ray version. The artists and writers actually flew, via helicopter to Venezuela and landed on top some of those huge, flat plateaus. Everything that you see in the film is real; every rock formation, constant weather changes, everything. It’s really neat.
    All except Kevin. He, and Doug are fake. 0_<

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