Sunday, May 31, 2009

Up

I’m still trying to understand just how good a film Up is. I emphasize film because I don’t put any qualifier ahead of it. I’m not saying “animated film” or “CGI film;” I’m saying film, period, end of story, as in it should compete for Best Picture Oscar and never mind that silly best animated feature award. Live action films, beware, you are now in competition with a cartoon that pretty much kicks your ass.

Pixar is in a rather enviable position. The trailers for Up really give you no idea what the film is about, other than a man flying off in his house. Yet millions are flocking to the theatre, more than went to see other, recent Pixar films on their opening weekend. That’s pure good will and expectations, buoyed even higher by what is sure to be excellent word of mouth.

Up tells the story of Carl and Ellie. Ellie, mind you, is no where to be found in the trailers, for the simple reason that she dies in the first five minutes of the film. And yet she inhabits most every frame. She is the driving force behind Carl’s adventure, inadvertently shared with young Russell, as he travels to Paradise Falls, somewhere in South America.

The opening montage of Up demonstrates the power of cinema to tell a purely visual story. It is a powerful, emotional roller coaster that is finally relieved by deft touches of visual humor that, in rapid succession, show you the misery Carl lives in after losing Ellie. When faced with a court order placing him in a nursing home, Carl creates a third option and his adventure begins.

That he doesn’t realize this until well into the film is one of its charms. The tiny morals and messages contained within the story unfold in good order. The film pauses and lets each sink in, without taking out a club and beating you over the head.

This is a film of love and laughter, triumph and loss. It celebrates the adventure of ordinary life, even while its characters embark on an extraordinary adventure. It’s quietest moments resound in your heart. There’s never a moment where you go, “Hey, wait a minute…”

In that funny way that film has, this isn’t my favorite Pixar film. (That would be Ratatouille.) That said, however, Up may be Pixar’s finest film to date, every bit as good as any live-action film we’ve seen this decade, a film of imagination and wit, of tremendous beauty and vision, filled with heart.

It is impossible to over-state just how good Up is, and how quickly I think you should run out and see it.

UPDATE:

With apologies to my little rodent friend, Remy, I have to correct myself. I admire people who can do this at first glance; it takes me a bit longer. Ratatouille is now my close second favorite Pixar film, Up has taken the prize.

Up is essentially perfect. I don’t think there’s a wasted frame in the entire film. I hate the word “art;” I prefer craft, and Up exudes a love of craft that I haven’t seen since, well, last year, with The Dark Knight. The care with which each frame is assembled is amazing to behold.

Up is a film that embraces silence as firmly as it embraces noise. It pauses at just the right moments to let the emotion sink in, but doesn’t linger any longer than necessary. This is smart filmmaking presenting a smart story. It is also an excellent adventure story (MovieBob gets it exactly right); simply breath-taking at times, it’s always surprising. The new Kirk should hang his head in shame; he (and Wolverine and John Connor and…)  just got pwned by an old man.

I am in danger of gushing because I think this film is great. Apparently I am not alone, as people voted with over $68 million this weekend. To see a film about a 78-year-old grump. That is simply amazing. Almost as amazing as the film Up is.

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