Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Up (2009)

UP opened to rave reviews in 2009, but I put off seeing it until this evening; the descriptions of the plot just didn't interest me all that much. Having caught up with A BUG'S LIFE (1998) a couple of months ago, enjoying it quite a bit, I decided it was finally time to cross UP off my viewing list.

Although I'm a big Disney and Pixar fan, I have to offer a contrarian view and say that this is one Pixar film I just didn't like very much. In fact, it ranks with WALL-E (2008) as the only Pixar films I have no particular interest in watching again. Sure, it's visually striking and has nuggets of brilliance scattered throughout, but this is an unrelentingly dark movie. The evil and the tears far outweigh the laughs and inspiration.

As many viewers are already aware, UP is the story of Carl Fredricksen (Edward Asner), a shy balloon vendor at a zoo who has always dreamed of exploring. Carl is understandably depressed and lonely after the death of his wife Ellie, especially as skyscrapers are surrounding his charming little house.

When it looks as though Carl may have to leave his home due to circumstances beyond his control, Carl and the house suddenly float away into the sky, thanks to thousands of balloons. Carl has an unexpected guest on board, a little Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Kevin Nagai).

I was surprised that the film didn't have more humor; in fact, although it has funny moments, overall it was pretty grim. The film also suffers from jarring changes in tone. The first section of the film is completely grounded in reality, as viewers are told Carl's life story. Next thing we know, balloons are inexplicably able to lift his house from its moorings so it can float away to South America. Okay, it's a fantasy, we'll go with that. But talking dogs? Okay.

Then suddenly the viewer is in a horror movie, with explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) revealed as a wacko murderer who thinks nothing of sending little boys careening to possible death. That was just a bridge too far for this viewer.

One of the film's main themes is rejection, a nice cheerful topic (grin). Carl feels rejected by a world which is anxious for him to move on, with careless construction workers even running over his beloved mailbox. Russell has been rejected and neglected by his father. Dug (Bob Peterson), the dog, is rejected by other dogs. Muntz was rejected by those who didn't believe in him.

Sure, there are positive themes too. Carl learns that friendships and helping others are what's important in life, and he's so re-energized by his new friends that he even discards his cane. Carl, Russell, Dug, and Kevin, a bird, all find their lives enriched by their friendships in various ways. But still. There's just one trauma after another, and I didn't particularly enjoy watching characters walking through a jungle dragging a house along. (And I wondered if Kevin's parents were so neglectful they weren't even worried about his disappearance...) I didn't feel "up" watching UP, I felt "uh."

And I haven't even mentioned the tear-jerking first reel! Yes, it was beautifully made, but hearing that it made everyone cry right as the movie was starting was one of the reasons I resisted the movie for so long. Something about the sequence rubbed me the wrong way; it felt manipulative. By way of contrast, I felt much different about the tearful moments at the end of TOY STORY 3 (2010), which were really earned by viewers' deep attachment to the characters spread over three films, combined with reflections on issues such as saying goodbye to childhood.

What I liked about the film: the "Mary Blair" look of the house by the falls...the adorable way Dug talks, just the way we might imagine a dog is thinking ("You are my master! I love you!")...the dogs' fascination with balls and squirrels, again very true to life...Kevin's cute bird babies...the warm final scene.

UP was directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. It runs 96 minutes. UP is rated PG for action scenes which include peril.

Michael Giacchino won the Oscar for Best Score. UP also won Best Animated Feature Film. It was nominated for Best Picture.

UP has been released on DVD in multiple editions, including a single-disc release and a two-disc deluxe edition.


Blogger DKoren said...

I love hearing such well-thought out takes on movies, especially when they're opposite my own. I love things that make you think about your own likes/dislikes!

This is my favorite Pixar film (Wall-E's a close second). I absolutely love it, and we've probably watched it 40-50 times on DVD with my little nephew and none of us adults are tired of it yet. And yet, I could not even make it through Toy Story 3, which I found so relentlessly grim, dark, and traumatizing that I have no desire to ever finish seeing it. I enjoy the first two Toy Story movies, but that third... no thank you.

Completely different things push each of our "too grim" buttons! :-D

But I genuinely care about the characters in Up (and Wall-E), where the characters in Toy Story, I have to admit, have never grabbed me. And both Up and Wall-E deal with rescuing and protecting loved ones from danger/death, which is a theme that always grabs me, so there's a built-in appeal there.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb!

This is such an interesting discussion! I loved reading your take and your love for UP and WALL-E, especially as I can really "see" your point of view on TOY STORY 3. For instance, I didn't care at all for the dark sequence near the end of TOY STORY 3, which some reviewers suggested was a Holocaust allegory (?!). But overall I really liked the film.

It seems that perhaps which films "push our buttons" is in part due to which characters we find appealing? For instance, I've always been completely taken with the TOY STORY crew: Woody, Buzz, and all the supporting cast, especially Barbie and the Little Green Men (grin). So the warm fuzzies I feel for those characters made me willing to go through some traumatic sequences. Whereas, while I understood Carl and the reasons he was a cranky old man, I can't say I really liked him. Russell was cute but didn't make a particular impression. The only UP character I found really appealing was Dug.

The humor might have had something to do with my reaction as well. I simultaneously found TOY STORY 3 scary yet extremely funny, again because the TOY STORY gang really tickles my funnybone. In UP, I didn't find much to laugh about, other than (again) Dug.

I'm really interested that our Pixar "favorites" lists are inverse. Would be interesting to muse further on the factors that make it so! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Best wishes,

11:54 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

You have a very good point about the characters! I never could connect to the Toy Story characters, and, while I really enjoy the clever plots of 1 and 2, other than Buzz, I don't actually like any of the characters. The army soldiers, maybe! They're pretty cool. But Woody always seems like a conceited jerk to me, even when he's trying to do the right thing. The rest are just there. Buzz is the only one who felt genuine to me.

So you are absolutely right -- I think if you aren't invested in the characters from the get-go, you're not going to care what happens to them in any movie.

In Up, by the end of the first ten minutes, I was thoroughly in love with Carl and Ellie, so the rest of the movie really mattered to me. And Kevin is also one of the characters that makes the movie work so well for me. That bird provides the funniest and the saddest moments in the movie. I didn't see the movie as about rejection at all, but rather about redemption, which is one of my favorite themes.

Randomly, I asked my family last night who their favorite Pixar characters were. My sister's were the captain in Wall-E and Red, from Cars. My niece's favorite was Kevin from Up and Dory from Finding Nemo. Mine are Carl Fredericksen and Eve from Wall-E. And I didn't get to query my b-i-l. I suspect Wall-E is his favorite though, because of how good-natured he is, and how he changes everyone he meets for the better. Who does your family like?

3:01 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb!

Youngest daughter is an UP fan and likes Russell. Older daughter loves all the Incredibles and Dory. Younger son and I especially love all the Toy Story cast (son's favorite is Hamm) and Mike & Sully.

Fun to compare!

Best wishes,

10:30 PM  

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