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Up

dir: Peter Docter
[img_assist|nid=1146|title=You beautifully hideous old man|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=655]
Yes, so Pixar have yet another film out. Hooray. And it’s the usual synthesis of state of the art computer animation and interesting story telling with decent characters.

You know what? They’re spoiling us, and we don’t appreciate their stuff anymore.

Like a kid you give new toys to every other day, at first they might be appreciative and surprised, independently of how great they are. Eventually this feel of being entitled and owed kicks in, and new baubles and trinkets are greeted mostly with a shrug.

It’s shameful to admit that I often feel that way with each new Pixar release. With only one exception that I can really think of, each of their flicks has given me great pleasure, especially with repeat viewings. And, as anyone with kids will tell you, a solid kid’s flick is one you can play for the millionth time without wanting to frisbee that copy of Finding Nemo into the stratosphere.

Pixar do have the touch, despite now being a fully fledged vassal state of the Disney empire. The quality of their flicks and their storytelling has not yet diminished.

Last year’s Pixar entry, being the tremendous WALL-E, I liked upon first viewing, and downright adore after the tenth or so. Sure, my kid might wander away after half an hour or so, but each time I get to see it, I marvel at the whole wordless opening, and the ability of the makers to give such an incredible amount of soulfulness to a little robot.

I’ve only watched Up once thus far, so I can’t say where in the Pixar pantheon it’s likely to reside, but mostly what I feel to this point is relief. Sweet, sweet relief. It’s as good as their usual stories, still light years ahead of the Ice Age and Shrek-like crap being pumped out by Dreamworks, still pushing the envelope of computer-led animation, and yet still holding onto to those quiet moments that elevate their stuff above most live action stuff with allegedly real people in the lead roles.

A little boy watches a newsreel way back in the day, back in, I dunno, the 40s? The 30s? He is besotted with the news stories about intrepid explorer Charles Muntz, who intrepidly travels around the world, delighting children with tales of derring-do and adventure. His ginormous airship, the aptly named Spirit of Adventure, being more than a phallic overcompensation, inspires children with their own dreams of travelling to South America and seeing the great sights and creatures the world has to offer.

Muntz is undone when he brings back the skeleton of a giant flightless bird called a snipe, and is called a fraud and a faker for his troubles. Run out of town on a rail, he vows (this is in the first minute or so) not to return to civilisation until he finds his white whale, I mean, his snipe.

I wonder if he’ll reappear at any point in the story? What do you think, dear incredulous reader?

The chubby boy becomes even more fixated on his dreams of exploration, which lead him to cross paths with another intrepid child explorer, being Ellie. The first twelve minutes of this film, giving a chronology of the boy and Ellie’s lives together, jumping as it does across the months, years and decades, is such a beautiful summation and introduction, elaboration and contained story in and of itself, that it’s better in those moments than most flicks manage to be for their entire length.

It’s kind of like having that staple of cinema, the falling in love montage sequence, at the beginning of the flick instead of the middle, except it’s actually well done. Brilliantly well done, and it moved me to copious tears for reasons I still can’t grasp.

And that’s just the beginning. The boy we started with, our protagonist, is now an old, old man, who creaks and snaps, crackles and pops when he gets out of bed in the morning (actually, so do I, so it’s not that age specific, is it?).

Mr Fredricksen, or Carl, as no-one calls him anymore, is a grumpy and lonely old man who doesn’t give a toss about anything or anyone except keeping the memory of his sweet, dear and departed Ellie sacrosanct and close to the surface of his heart. He talks to her frequently, in that highly irritating habit old people develop, along the lines of, “See what they’ve done to this neighbourhood, Ellie? Not like back in our day, was it, dear?” or “Did you see how much makeup and how high the skirt was on that slut that just walked past, Ellie? In our day she would have been tarred and feathered for collaborating with the Nazis. But these days, Ellie, no-one’s got any standards anymore, eh love?”

I can’t wait to be an old man so I can get away with saying that kind of old man crap. Mix it up with some of Clint Eastwood’s old curmudgeon “Get off my lawn or I’ll kill you ethnic stereotypes” racist kind of stuff, and I’m going to be ecstatic. Of course I’m going to have to wait about forty years, but I can start practicing now, surely?

Fredricksen’s neighbourhood has completely changed, and his remains the only house surrounded by malls, sushi holes, yoga spas and shiatsu splendours. His friendly yet bloody interactions with some local construction workers convince him it’s time to fulfil Ellie’s lifelong dream of travelling to Venezuela to see the waterfalls that they spent an entire life yearning for.

It’s too late for Ellie, obviously, but with her so ever-present for Fredricksen, he does it the only way he knows how: he can’t bring the mountain to Ellie, so he’s going to take Ellie to the mountain, thanks to thousands and thousands of helium balloons.

Does it work? This, like every Pixar flick, is a fantasy, an elaborate and expansive fantasy, so why would the image of a flying house, levitated by colour, light and helium, be any less credible than talking fish voiced by Ellen DeGeneris and Albert Brooks, or sentient cars with eyes in their windscreens, or a rat that dreams of being a chef, or a tiny little sweet robot who earns a soul through 700 years of effort?

That moment when the old man reveals his plan of escape to two workers from a local old folk’s home, is one of those defining Pixar moments; of wonderment, of elation, of joy, that defines the best of what Pixar has ever delivered, and is almost always capable of delivering. Beneath the layers of potential treacle and occasional clichés, beneath the every effort of Disney executives to get Pixar’s people to dumb down and cheapen their efforts (because it makes everything else Disney puts out look like the crap that it is) there are these elements which few other storytellers can manage, especially in the field of big budget animation.

Unbeknownst to the old man, he has an obligatory hitchhiker in the form of an obese teenage scout/wilderness ranger who accidentally comes along for the ride. His purpose, more than anything else, like that of any decent person in any decent story, is to convince the old bastard not to be so much of an old bastard. Russell’s presence feels… both almost superfluous and almost like pandering, since any revelations Fredricksen has to learn about letting go of the baggage of the past, and not destroying his present out of obsession with adhering to some feeling of obligation to Ellie, are his to earn. But, still, with Russel along, at least he has someone to learn to care about. At least I hope that’s where they were going with it.

Once they arrive in South America, the second part of the story is, as always, significantly different from the first, but it’s in the Venezuelan section of the tale where most of the action is going to take place, where Fredrickson’s vital life lessons are to be learned and where his goals are to be achieved, or perhaps he’s meant to discover something more important along the way. I won’t go so far as to call it predictable, but, come on. I mean honestly, come on.

If / when Fredricksen meets someone quite surprising, considering how old he would have to be, that person, being the elder and somewhat frightening explorer Muntz, he is given a dark reflection to ponder, to see the effects that obsession renders upon the mind and soul of an empty man who’s made himself and his talents a slave to his madness. I don’t really know if those elements worked that well. Maybe it’ll cohere more on subsequent viewings, but some of the later material seemed a bit less creative and more obligatory. Like they weren’t sure how to end it or how best to summarise all the main story’s simplistic themes.

You know, like divorce is bad, being old is bad, killing rare animals to prove you’re not an impotent has-been is bad, and trying to kill chubbie kids is bad. All those intricate dramaturgical and thematic complexities that elude most of us non-Pixar employees.

Personally, I thought they could have extracted deeper meaning and summed up everything better with explosions, knife-wielding midgets talking backwards and a chorus line of three breasted hookers dancing the Cancan, but that’s why the Pixar people are where they are, and why I’m where I am, wallowing in the direct-to-DVD ooze at the bottom of the movie reviewer hierarchy.

At the very least, through the magic of technology, we are given a glimpse into the minds of the dogs that serve Muntz’s bidding, which is a sweet and often hilarious rendering. I absolutely loved the way the dialogue and sentence constructions were put together for the doggie dialogue, and the character of Dug is an absolute delight (more so than Russell, I have to say). I’m not going to belabour the point, but the moments where a potentially villainous character overexplains and belabours points to his minions by asking them “Are you understanding the words that I am saying to you right now?” were quite delightful to me.

The whole film is delightful to me. I loved Up, but I don’t know how good it is compared to all their other stuff. It seems simple in comparison to the other ones, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It will take me multiple viewings before I really get a sense of everything that it has, instead of what it lacks.

Up, like the best and greatest of stories, from Crime and Punishment to The Smurfs, is about not being afraid to follow your dreams no matter how lofty they might be, but also, having the good sense to not kill people needlessly along the way in order to achieve them.

Words to live by. I really enjoyed it, but I can’t speak for you. You might have coal in your heart and black ichor running through your cold, cold veins, and you might find it an affront to the senses, an insult to the intellect and a brutish revocation of every human advance from the Enlightenment onwards. But, speaking as someone with coal in their heart and black ichor running through their cold, cold veins, it’s still pretty enjoyable.

8 times I appreciated that they allowed for the fact that Fredricksen could, potentially, being an old curmudgeon, at least imagine what it would be like to throw Russell overboard out of 10

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“Hey, I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, "I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead." Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead.” - Up

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