Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Up (2009) ****

Pixar just keeps knocking them out of the park. The animation powerhouse’s latest offering, “Up,” may not be quite as much of a kid-pleaser as “Monsters, Inc.” or “Wall-E,” but it sets a new benchmark in the world of animation for quality storytelling.

Ed Asner is at his grumpy best giving voice to Carl, an elderly man who, after losing his wife, decides to belatedly pursue their shared dream of exploring the hidden wilds of South America. He launches his entire house into flight with hundreds of hot air balloons, but once aloft, he discovers Russell, an eight-year-old stowaway. The two have a fantastic adventure that leads to a great friendship and opens Carl’s eyes to the possibilities that still await him.

The whole thing sounds like it could be trite, but Pixar pulls it off. The difference between genuine emotional content and nauseating sentimentality is usually in the execution, and “Up” tells this story with subtlety and grace. Asner is the perfect voice actor for this role; he never uses words where an expressive grunt will do. There is also a heartbreaking, dialog-free montage showing Carl and his love Ellie getting married and living out their lives together that is just stunning. The sequence puts to shame just about anything I have seen in an animated film.

“Up” is also action-packed, admittedly with some poetic license taken in the physics department. Some of the action was too intense, in fact, for my three-year-old daughter. I’m glad I didn’t know that ahead of time, though. I might have missed one of the best movies of the year.

4 stars out of 5


Midgard Dragon said...

Not as much of a "kid-pleaser" as WALL-E? A new benchmark for storytelling? Listen, Up was fantastic, but WALL-E was by far more "adult" and a better "story". Up had dogs flying planes FFS.

The Guy on the Couch said...

Midgard, I agree that "Wall-E" is a fantastic movie, as you can see from my 7/08 entry. I called "Wall-E" more of a kid-pleaser simply because my daughter liked it better than "Up." As for the maturity of the themes, I have to stand by my statement. I love the way "Wall-E" satirizes consumerism, gluttony, and the infantilization of citizens by authority, but the material was mostly within the reach of kids. "Up," on the other hand, deals with themes of infertility, grief, and coming to terms with the disappointments of one's life, which is pretty adult stuff. Maybe too adult even for me!