Saturday, May 16, 2009

Up (Review)

I’ve never gotten the effusive gush that comes over normally sane people when the subject of Pixar comes up. The “everything they’ve ever done is a masterpiece! (well except Cars)” just gets irritating after the 82nd time. I’ve never hated any of the Pixar flix I’ve seen but found only two worthy of some of the extraordinary praise that is trumpeted (or syndicated) from the pages of the entertainment section of America's newspapers.

Take Up (please!... sorry) – the industry trades of record (Variety and The Hollywood Reporter) each gave the film a score of 100… 100! Really? So this is an immaculately conceived and flawlessly delivered piece if work that will herald the sweeping of the world in joys unity like a 70’s Haskell Wexler ad? Seriously how much sway do these folk’s have?

Anyway, no this film will not teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Though it fits the Pixar formula nicely - two odd couple type characters learning that they need each other despite initial reluctance on the part of one or both of them. Toss in a goofy sidekick or 3 for comic relief and you got yourself yet another Pixar flick.

The opening act is actually pretty interesting. We start off with newsreel footage and a young boy taking in his hero – Charles Muntz, a world renowned adventurer at a local theater. On his way home he (the silent type) meets a girl (very much NOT the silent type) who is equally enthralled with Mr. Muntz. They play in a broken-down house for a bit and realize that they are both determined to follow their hero on a great adventure in South America. We then flash forward to their wedding day. This next section contains no dialogue – pleasant after the over-caffeinated set-up that preceded it – but offers scenes from their marriage. They buy the rundown house, fix it up and furnish it with love. Then the emotional downward spiral of this section catches you off guard as their life slowly becomes a series of unfortunate incidents that hinder the the fulfillment of their dreams both financially and emotionally. It’s quite bold and I salute that but those bringing kids might have to do some explaining – heard at least 3 in the audience ask their parents questions here. I'm not surprised the rating on this was bumped to PG. So finally we are left with just a curmudgeon and a world that has passed him by… time to intro the fat kid with the speech impediment! They go on the adventure the old guy planned for years and there are some talking dogs.

The emotional build-up of the first act echos thru the film but I never felt as though it was done all that successfully. Carl (the old man) talks to a picture of his wife that sits in this house (furnished with love) and eventually the house comes to symbolize the spirit of the wife but its never totally sold to the audience and its brought back every so often in a clumsy way that screams “EMOTIONAL MOMENT!.” Much like Ratatouille, partially realized ideas on theme hold the film back from true enjoyment.

The adventure itself is filled with slapstick that is often funny but sometimes very predictable – to the 8 year old who called out the upcoming sight gag for all to hear, you are awesome. There are also some nice allusions to other films including Star Wars that will work for the parents. On the technical side I thought they were a bit lazier in how they used light in this compared to their last beautiful flick. The shadows move around the characters very nicely but the colors of the source and its reflection are strangely off at times. Also the whole picture didn’t spring to life nearly as well as their last couple of films, everything felt quite flat. That cannot be said though of the fine vocal performances nor of Michael Giacchino's strong but simple scoring. Over all I wasn’t wowed by this nearly as much as Wall-E, which is a shame because there is a core here that could have been really great.

Oh and I did not see the 3D version of this – maybe that will pack more of a visual punch than this one did.


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