Up (2009 movie) review…

Up (2009 movie) review after the break…

Up (2009 movie) review…

At the heart of each Pixar movie is a message. With the movie “Toy Story,” the message was one of friendship and acceptance; Woody had to accept his role as second fiddle while Buzz had to be diplomatic and accept Woody as his friend rather then his rival. With “A Bug’s Life,” the message was teamwork; A circus of insects fought together with ants in order to be victorious against a much larger and vicious gang of grasshoppers. With “Monsters Inc.,” the message is change; An entire industry must face reality and change with the times or face becoming real monsters by doggedly attempting to stick with established practices.

The latest Pixar movie, “Up,” is no different; An elderly man must learn to let go of his past in order to enjoy the present. At it’s heart, “Up” is a CGI-animated study on the subject of obsession. One man is obsessed with fulfilling a lifelong dream that his wife possessed; Another man is obsessed with avenging a humiliating scolding from the public. Both men will meet in an isolated part of South America called “Paradise Falls” (no relation to that other “Paradise Falls” in the video game “Fallout 3”). One man will learn to let go of his obsession while the other will have his fate sealed with it. It’s a Pixar movie; You can figure out who wins.

The movie is not, though, a two-man character study. If it was, it’d be a small, independent film in black and white. Also, small children tend not to react well to high-falutin concepts such as “obsession” (or, high-falutin concepts in general, see: Center, EPCOT) so there’s a more child-friendly supporting cast of characters on hand with their own agenda: A young Boy Scout (OK, they couldn’t use “Boy Scout” but, for all intents and purposes, he’s a Boy Scout) with his own obsession issues concerning merit badges; An outcast dog who yearns for acceptance from his former master or, for that matter, any master; A rare ostrich-like bird intent on getting back to her young; An old man obsessed with proving a skeptical public wrong once and for all.

“Up,” for the most part, is an enjoyable film; Anyone who has seen a Pixar film will certainly recognize the well-worn and cliched fingerprints on this film that the company smears over all of it’s films. There are always messages about friendship prevailing over all ill events, how teamwork triumphs over insurmountable odds, how people overcome their personal quirks to eventually make the right decisions. Pixar is almost notorious for it’s usage of the “Chekov’s Gun” principle, whereby something introduced earlier in the film is instrumental for the climactic resolution.

“Up,” though, suffers from two artistic decisions that derails most of the achievements that the film possesses.

The first is the overly sad introduction where our lead character, Carl, experiences a lifetime of memories with his wife, including her eventual death. This introduction is downright heartbreaking as you see a montage that includes his wife struggling to walk up a hill and then ending at a funeral parlor. Anyone with a heart and is older then the age of 18 is going to feel absolutely melancholy by the end of this segment. The sheer effectiveness of this segment, though, is to it’s ultimate disadvantage; It bleakly colors the rest of the film to the point of distraction. Think about it; Carl is a clod for not having the gumption to fulfill his wife’s lifelong dream of going to Paradise Falls. Furthermore, if not having a child was so painful to them, why not just adopt? Certainly, adoption existed before the 1960’s, didn’t it?

A previous Disney movie, “Lilo and Stitch” faced a similar situation during it’s movie with a planned sequence showing a character’s action killing a goldfish. The segment was meant to show that character how one’s actions had lifelong consequences but test audiences found the sequence too derailing to the rest of the film. In that case, the sequence was cut – An option that Pixar should have considered with their own sequence.

Also, unlike “Finding Nemo” (where an aquatic wife meets a rather sudden and Darwinian end), the loss of a human family member has a particular resonance that a fish character just can’t relay. Yes, it’s sad that a fish died but people tend not to have deep emotional attachments to fish; People do have deep emotional attachment to their family and friends, though.

The second artistic decision that removes from the film is the standard Disney ending that really short-changes the audience. Without revealing too much, our two “obsessed” main characters battle it out on the top of Zeppelin (Tip o’ the Hat to “The Rocketeer,” perhaps?) where one man uses his newfound freedom from obsession to doom the other into near-certain death.

I have to say that this ending really felt… Flat. Once more, Disney-Pixar disposes of a villain in a really unimaginative way and, for an experienced moviegoer, it simply didn’t satisfy. Yes, there’s a shade of “Batman Begins” with the finale in “Up” but, unlike Batman Begins where the enemy is vanquished by giving him his just deserts, in “Up”, the villain is merely disposed of like a piece of garbage thrown into a trash bin. Worst still, if the whole idea of “Up” is to let go of your past to enjoy the present, why the final shot where we see a prior goal of the movie surprisingly met? What was the point of the movie if, at the very end, the initial “flawed” goal is achieved, even if by complete accident?

This film felt a bit like the prior Pixar film “Wall-E” in reverse; Whereas Wall-E had a tremendous opening segment followed by an enjoyable if predictable rest of the film, “Up” has an abysmal opening segment that an enjoyable if predictable rest of the film struggles to make up for.

Is “Up” a good movie? Yes it is. Could “Up” have been a far better movie? Absolutely. Why not a film about an older couple who finally fulfills their lifelong dream only to find that their real adventure was in the mundane day-to-day struggles of life with each other? Why not a film about an older female widower who realizes that the man of her dreams was actually her deceased working-class husband, not the world-class explorer she desired so long ago? For what it is, “Up” is a good film… And yet it could have been so much more…

Perhaps Pixar should start watching their own films and applying their lessons. Or maybe, like the villain in this movie, they’ve become too obsessed with the destination rather then the journey…

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