Eye For Film >> Movies >> Up (3D) (2009) Film Review
Reviewed by: Anton Bitel
Up. A simple two-letter adverb, modest and compact, yet capable of denoting all at once an elevation in quality, a movement against gravity and a lifting of the heart. It is the shortest title for a Pixar offering yet, but that has not stopped this film's seemingly unstoppable rise to become the first ever animated feature, not to mention 3D feature, to open the Cannes Film Festival.
Of course, the easiest way to go up is to start down low. Traditionally all Pixar's theatrical releases are preceded by exquisite animated shorts, but though it is set high above the ground, Peter Sohn's six-minute Partly Cloudy is a strangely tepid, inferior piece, a long way beneath Pixar's usual lofty standards. From there, the sky's the limit, and Up certainly raises the game. As beautiful as anything the animation house has yet produced (and their first feature in 3D), it is at times meandering and not a little mawkish, but its vivid primary colours conceal a great deal of shaded nuance.
Up opens when nerdish young misfit Carl Fredricksen first meets the Peppermint Patty-ish Ellie, who is happy to do most of the quiet boy's talking for him and who shares his obsession with the airborne adventures of recently disgraced explorer Charles Muntz. Ellie makes Carl swear that he will one day help her follow in Muntz's footsteps to the 'lost world' of Paradise Falls in South America – but a whirlwind sequence spanning a whole lifetime shows how reality keeps conspiring to get in the way of this pair's dreams, as infertility robs Ellie of the chance to have children, a series of everyday accidents keeps putting off their travel plans, and finally death takes Ellie away for good, leaving Carl a grief-stricken, cantankerous septuagenarian whose dream-house is about to be demolished to make way for highrise.
Faced with forcible retirement to the Shady Oaks home for the elderly, Carl decides instead to have one last hurrah, using thousands of helium-filled balloons to lift himself and his entire house heavenwards in pursuit of Paradise Falls. It is one old man against the world, as though the Crimson Permanent Assurance from Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life (1983) had never stopped sailing on its voyage of geriatric recalcitrance.
Carl never counted, however, on being joined on his trip by accidental stowaway Russell - a chirpy eight-year-old 'Wilderness Explorer' complete with his own sense of loss and loneliness, and his own dreams built on hot air. Together, this odd couple will discover a fantastic avian creature, a talking dog, Carl's fallen hero Muntz and, ultimately, each other.
The adventure that follows may prove true the clichés that, for instance, life is what happens when you are making other plans (and is also whatever you make of it), that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, that you should never meet your heroes, or that to find true happiness you have to learn to let go – but amid all the high-jinks, feel-good fun, there is a sadness, established right from the extraordinarily affecting montage of the opening scenes, that permeates everything here, anchoring the film's flights of fancy to earthbound realities.
One of those realities is old age itself, an unusual subject for a family film, although fans of Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle (2004) – and Pixar honcho John Lasseter is such a fan – will not be so surprised by this. Russell may be more a clownish foil to Carl than a true character, but his obvious similarity to the younger Carl lends him a greater depth, as well as bringing with it the sense of how easily this boy's youthful optimism could turn into bitterness, disappointment and regret, given a few – or 70 - years. He completes Carl no less than Ellie did, while Muntz shows the dangers of turning your back on humanity and chasing your personal obsessions too far over the edge.
Meanwhile, the film's preoccupations with airships and dizzying verticals recall Miyazaki's Laputa: Castle In The Sky (1986). Both films, after all, feature characters struggling against the forces of gravity and idyllic utopias brought low by human shortcomings. So while Up certainly raises the spirits (and many a laugh too), we are never allowed to forget that what goes up must eventually also come down, and that every life ends in death. So while this might be light entertainment for all the family, that is not to say that it lacks weight.
Up suffers a similar problem to Pixar's previous feature WALL·E (2008) in that it is at its very best in its first third when freely observing and sketching its characters and the pathos of their situations, but drifts into more conventional trajectories once the demands of an actual plot have kicked in. Still, this is a minor quibble against what seems yet another instance of Pixar perfection. Just pay close attention to the (lack of) punctuation in the title – you would not want mistakenly to take your little ones to a screening of Russ Meyer's mammary-mad 1976 movie Up!...Reviewed on: 08 Sep 2009