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Pixar goes about making movies in a different way than the vast majority of movie studios do these days. For one thing, these movies take a very long time to make. Pixar says that “Up” took five years to put together and of course, “Up” cost a fortune. Because Pixar only puts one movie out a year, the combined time, costs, and stakes of each release forces John Lassiter, the big guy in charge at Pixar and the rest of the creative and technical team of each movie to get it right before they begin.
That means you start with a really good story to tell. For the most part, this is backwards to the way many movies are made these days where scripts are at best hurried, sometimes written as the filming is underway or, as you, fellow movie goers can testify, not really written at all. Pixar knows that once the animation and all the nerdy technical processes of one of their movies has started, it’s kind of like a big boulder rolling downhill. Gravity is underway.
Pixar’s track record for making the good stuff is just about perfect. About the only difference you’ll see in their movies is what age the story seems to be aimed at. While every movie has something for everyone, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and this weeks new release Up seem obviously geared up a little differently than Cars and Finding Nemo.
Up is Pixars most adult movie ever. Up is about a 78 year old ex balloon saleman named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner). Carl has recently lost his wife Ellie and is facing the imminent expulsion from his lifetime home to an elderly care facility. The first bit of Up is a flashback of Carl’s early life and adulthood as it combines with his wife. They meet as children, dream of great adventures to far away places, marry and like many of us, get caught up in the necessities of adult survival and are unable to achieve their dreams of a home, with children, at the mouth of a great waterfall in South America. Carl grieves both for the loss of his wife and also for what he feels he has lost in himself and for what he believes he never had the opportunity to experience.
At 78, with the elderly care orderlies at the door, Carl decides he has nothing to lose and takes his home and his memories, made airworthy with many hundreds of helium balloons, on his first and perhaps last, adventure south.
Up is as full of emotions, humour and brightness as any Pixar movie ever. Carl is joined by Russell, a bouncy and enthusiastic version of himself, played by Jordan Nagai. Russell is a boyscout with a sad story of his own, who accidentally finds himself on the balloon ride south. They are both eventually accompanied by a talking dog named Dug, an outcast golden retriever who is hilarious and a perfect doggie character study that only Pixar could create. Russell and Dug remind Carl that the adventure is not where you go, but what you find in yourself on the journey.
Carl reminisces and holds tightly to dreams and wishes he had hoped to share with his beloved wife but has forgotten that she herself was an adventure and that their lives and love together, though missing one destination, were all that was important. Up is also about letting go. Regrets are the anchors that cement Carl to his past. His balloons might carry him aloft and south, but his spirit doesn’t seem to accompany him. Carl eventually meets up with and battles his childhood hero Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) who like Carl, is lost in what he used to be.
I saw this movie in digital 3d and it was my first experience with the format. After a few minutes of getting used to it I was amazed at what a difference it made. 3d seems tailor made for Pixar films. Contours and contrasts of other Pixar films like Wall-E seemed constructed for the 3D they were never viewed in. I can’t wait to see what live action will look like.
Pixar films seem to be made in an earnest way and have a feel to them that Steven Spielberg’s films used to have. It’s impossible to go into Up with an open mind and leave with any kind of cynicism intact. Up is medicine for what ails you, if what hurts is your belief that films are all about the money they make and less about the expression of something good and right, expertly crafted and designed to reflect the filmmakers honest desire to add some joy into your life. Go to Up and don’t fight it. Leave happy.
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (director) / Bob Peterson (screenplay)
CAST: Edward Asner … Carl Fredricksen (voice)
Christopher Plummer … Charles Muntz (voice)
Jordan Nagai … Russell (voice)
Bob Peterson … Dug, Alpha (voice)
Delroy Lindo … Beta (voice)
Jerome Ranft … Gamma (voice)