May 30, 2009

Up (05/30/09)

Lettergrade: C

Pixar's Up has been getting a lot of four-star reviews. If we were talking only about the film's first 10 minutes - which beautifully encompass Carl's meeting, courtship and marriage to Elle (up to and including her passing) - I would agree completely: They're as poignant as any sequence Pixar has done previously. Unfortunately, though, those stellar 10 minutes are followed by a very strange movie which I must say I didn't much like. Mostly because of a bizarre lack of focus or cohesiveness: It's just too random and weird.

After Elle is gone, Carl, a life-long balloon salesman, is having trouble adapting to life. He's about to be sent to a retirement home courtesy of a court order, and so he decides to do the only logical thing: He ties enough balloons to his house so that he can fly it and all his possessions off to South America in order to fulfill his wife's childhood dream of living on a large cliff-face next to a majestic waterfall. Okaaaaay, but then things get strange: They make it to South America easily enough, but once they get there, they need to walk the remaining several miles with the still-floating house tethered to their bodies. Meanwhile, they're being chased by vicious dogs who all wear robotic collars which allow them to speak English to each other. Meanwhile still, there's a very old adventurer, resembling Ted Turner but voiced by Christopher Plummer, living out in the jungle trying to accomplish a particular mission which he feels will revitalize his credibility. Um... Carl and Elle watched his news reels when they were kids... and the press notes say that Carl is 78 now. How old is Charles Muntz supposed to be, exactly? And why has he been living in South America for the last 60 some years on his own? Why would he want to?

Around the time the talking dogs showed up I found myself wondering just what the frig this movie was supposed to be about. Now that I've made it to the end and have had time to think about it, I still don't know. There are too many comic subplots which seem to be there for laughs and no other reason. It's like they had a bunch of ideas they really liked sitting around and they finally found a movie to park them all in. Maybe if they had done a scene where Carl drops a bunch of acid before the balloons lift his house off its foundation, the rest of the movie might be more explainable in a Wizard Of Oz kind of way.

As is, I can't help but give the film a very dark reading: Carl is flying his house off on a trip that will probably kill him, in order to park his home next to a waterfall where he will essentially starve and die. That's fine to do a story like that (hey, it's what Ice Age was about), but it is diluted with so much comic relief that this aspect of the story seems barely present in the finished film. And if Carl had opened the book that Elle gave him earlier in the flick, wouldn't most of the movie have been avoided? In the film's second half, he's remarkably spry for a 78 year old, running up the side of dirigibles, and swinging on ropes through the air.

"But John," I can hear some of you asking, " What do you expect, it's a goddamn cartoon!" Yes, but this is Pixar, creator of masterworks like Toy Story 2 and Ratatouille, meaning that it should probably be held to a higher standard, which I am. The most successful of their movies exploit a simple premise well: "when people are not around, toys have a life of their own", "a rat becomes an expert chef at a famous Parisian restaurant", etc. The less successful are more like Cars, which takes place in an alternate reality that is exactly like Earth as we know it, but the with autos existing in the place of humans. The premise is just so funky and unrelatable that it somewhat loses contact with reality. Or at least, it loses contact with me, which clearly hasn't hurt their business in the short term, but might in the long run if they keep making fluff like this and I finally wise up and stop buying a ticket to see it. At times, Up feels like a semi remake of Scent Of A Woman and Into The Wild with a dash or two of Bad Santa thrown in whenever the fat fuck kid does something.

I guess it is entertaining, but apart from the scenes with Elle at the beginning, the movie is more like a series of ideas rather than a story. In retrospect, I'm a little annoyed that they put such a great opening sequence in a movie that has so little else going for it. That's Dreamworks Animation type shit... Shrek, Madacascar, Monsters Vs. Aliens... Actually, scratch that: More recent DW efforts like Kung Fu Panda have had a bit more of a point. A familiar point that has been done before, yes, but at least it has one. Maybe there's something in Up about not living in the past and choosing to let go and move on when a certain segment of your life is over, but frankly I feel that's big stretch to impose some meaning onto a movie that doesn't seem to be interested in having any.

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