Nordling kicks back on the porch of Carl Fredrickson's floating house and also takes a look at new Pixar short PARTLY CLOUDY!
Published at: April 19, 2009, 12:04 p.m. CST by quint
You can't trust me on a Pixar movie. You just can't. I'm saying that right out because at this point, I hold that studio in such high esteem that it's difficult for me to imagine a better run of films by any single creative force. Miyazaki, maybe. Spielberg from 1975-1987. But even those two have some clunkers in there. Pixar has none, not even CARS, which instead of adoring I merely like a lot. And now we come to their 10th film, UP, directed by MONSTERS INC.'s Pete Docter, and their new short, PARTLY CLOUDY, directed by animator Peter Sohn.
I actually have no business writing this at this time. I should be holding it back, taking stock in the film more, and writing a more reasoned review later. And I'm trying to pull it back some, and I refuse to play the "Where does it rank" game with Pixar's other films. I think they've made enough films now that to rank them at this point seems a little bit unfair and even a little insulting. But since I've seen the first 40 or so minutes at BNAT 10 this year, I've had some time to think about how this film was going to work when it was released, and even thought about how it could seriously fall on its face. I wasn't worried, because I freely admit to a Pixar bias. But it was still something to think about.
The opening cartoon that plays before UP, PARTLY CLOUDY, perfectly fits into the themes of the larger work. It's a short about beginnings, while UP is about the autumn years, and they both feature clouds pretty prominently, but that's about all I should say about PARTLY CLOUDY at this point. Think old Merrie Melodies and you might get the idea. It's not very long. It's not very complicated. And it works.
After the Pixar logo, we go right into an old newsreel, featuring great adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Muntz explores the world on his blimp, Spirit of Adventure, searching for strange creatures far and wide. When he discovers an unusual bird skeleton in South America, the scientific world considers him a fraud. Muntz vows to go to Paradise Falls to bring the creature back and clear his name. Watching this newsreel is little Carl Fredrickson, and he excitedly runs home, playing his exploring adventures in his head. As he walks past an abandoned house, he hears the voice of someone inside playing the same adventures he is. Inside is Ellie and she yearns for adventure just like Carl does. They hit it off instantly, and through a montage, they fall in love and get married, always vowing someday to go to Paradise Falls. But life seems to get in the way, and they settle down quietly into the rhythm of their lives. Then Ellie passes on, and Carl (Ed Asner, who's wonderful), alone, begins to take assessment of his life.
Stumbling into this story is Russell, a Wilderness Explorer who needs that final badge - Assisting The Elderly - before moving up the the upper levels. All Carl wants is to be left alone, but Russell insists, so Carl sends him on a hunt for the mythical snipe. Outside, a construction crew knocks over Carl and Ellie's mailbox, and Carl overreacts, hitting one of the crew with his cane and hurting the crewman's head. Forced by court order to go to a nursing home, Carl has one last adventure up his sleeve. He will honor Ellie's wish, and go to Paradise Falls, and nothing's going to stand in his way, even with Russell tagging along.
By now you've all seen the trailers, the balloon house, the birds, the dogs... and you might have some idea where this movie's going. What Pete Docter does so well, as he did in MONSTERS INC., is make you relate to the characters and understand their situations. UP has a wonderful economy with the story it has to tell. It wastes little time getting to Paradise Falls and the story propels at a surprisingly fast pace, and yet the filmmakers know when to stop and take a moment for the characters. Carl's story is especially emotional, and anyone with a grandparent will probably get their tear ducts put through a ringer a couple of times. Russell also has a nice story arc, and I appreciated that he's not just a token kid in the film but a character that helps Carl discover aspects about himself and the relationships in his life. When it's revealed that Muntz is still alive in Paradise Falls and still in pursuit of his bird - affectionately named Kevin by Russell - Carl becomes the most unlikely hero and he knows what he must do. Muntz reminded me very much of Charles Foster Kane crossed with Howard Hughes. There's a lot of film references in UP - from WIZARD OF OZ to KING KONG to CITIZEN KANE to even a tiny bit of STAR WARS.
But don't worry if you think the film might be too sappy or dramatic. UP may be one of the funniest Pixar films yet. The dogs are simply comic genius. Their dialogue is very stream of consciousness and spur of the moment, and I imagine some of their lines are going to be repeated all summer. I'm not going to spoil any of them for you here - the laughter in the theater at each line of dog dialogue is such a ringing endorsement to the script (by Bob Peterson) that I'd be a real jerk if I repeated any of them. Dug the Dog is one of the most endearing characters in the Pixar lexicon, and Alpha, the head of Muntz's dog army, once he speaks... well, it's somewhat like Vader on helium, and the way all the dogs are used in UP blows away anything you've seen in CATS AND DOGS or other talking animal films. Not to ruin anything by talking shop, but the Paradise Falls dogs are practically begging to be marketed.
What didn't I like? Not to spoil too much, but I was unpleasantly surprised by the resolution of one character - it didn't seem to fit the whimsical nature of the film. But even then, it's left up to the audience to interpret what happened, and I may be looking too much into it. I love the balloon house, but after a point it literally becomes a drag on the film and the characters. Even so, there's a thematic point to it so it's not any kind of deal breaker.
Pixar doesn't make drop-the-kid-off films. They make films that are meant to be shared by the whole family, and I'm not just talking about parents and kids, but grandparents, grandchildren, the whole brood. There's a bunch of films coming this summer, and I intend to see most if not all of them. But I'm going to return to UP. For one thing, I didn't see it in glorious 3-D, and you can bet that's going to be remedied. And I'm going to bring my mom along, and my daughter... and everyone else in the family if I can. Pixar films have a way of plugging right into my heart, and UP is certainly no exception. I can't wait to see it again.