Just Watched: Up

Well, it certainly has been a long time hasn’t it. Through a combination of university re-starts, hectic schedules and computer theft I haven’t posted on here in a good long while, sad to say. Hopefully now that things have settled a mite, we can return to business, and I can think of little better way than with a review of one of the year’s most hotly-anticipated and best pictures, Disney-Pixar’s Up.

After the huge successes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille et al, the pressure was undoubtedly on new Disney chief John Lasseter (former Pixar head and director of Toy Story amongst others) to keep the ball rolling with another quality movie. And he has done so, with one of the best-plotted and certainly emotionally complex Pixar film yet.

Centred around loveable curmudgeon Carl Fredricksen, Up is a firstly a film about dreamers. After meeting wife Ellie in the opening few minutes as the two unite over their love of adventure, we see a wordless 5-minute montage of their married life together from wedding day to Ellie’s passing. It is without question the most powerful footage Pixar has yet captured, and if you’re not welling up you may very well have no soul.

Unfortunately, the film can’t live up to its unbelievable opening, but all the same it’s a brilliant movie and a magical cinematic experience in a climate preoccupied with big-money CGI and $200 million budgets. Carl decides to adventure off to the mythical Paradise Falls by tying balloons to his house and flying away on the day he was due to be taken to a care home. Plucky young boy scout Russell has unwittingly been dragged along, however, as he was trying to earn his ‘Help the Elderly’ merit badge.

The old git-energetic youth pairing has been done before, but instead of using the leads to make ill-judged social commentary about generational gaps, the script makes Russell and Carl very similar people, with a love of adventure and a good head on their shoulders. They provide laughs and entertainment but also the emotional centre which has anchored Pixar films since their  genesis.

Paradise Falls itself is wonderfully realised (as you’d expect), and the panning shots of the jungle and cliffs are beautifully handled. The discovery of rare tropical bird Kevin leads to some nice slapstick moments, but it’s adorable dog Dug who is more likely to win over audiences. Given a talking collar by his master (whose name I won’t reveal for spoiler purposes), he is the most easily distracted character in the world, anxious to please his new master Carl while occasionally thinking he’s seen a squirrel.

Winning foursome (l-r) Kevin, Russell, Dug and Carl.

Winning foursome (l-r) Kevin, Russell, Dug and Carl.

The central quartet of Carl, Russell, Dug and Kevin are brilliant during their shared screentime and the comedy comes thick and fast during the middle 45 minutes. Unfortunately as the film begins its action plot it takes a dive, providing the weakest villain in a Pixar film thus far. However, it is easy to forgive this shortcoming since the emotional plot is so brilliantly handled. Carl’s reading of Ellie’s ‘Adventure Book’ is sure to prompt a few tears, and his absolute devotion to his late wife is the most poignant piece of characterisation Pixar has thus far created.

Up is a fantastic movie, packed full of excitement, emotion and ebullience, and paced brilliantly. Had it continued the quality of its first 5 minutes we’d be talking about the film of the decade, but it is a little let down by a weak villain in the second and third acts. Still, it stands up very well against Pixar’s other works and whilst it’s no Toy Story, it’s still a great picture and one of the best films that will come out this year.

9/10: Pixar has managed to make one of its best films whilst handling the child-unfriendly subjects of loneliness, old age and death, and its a testament to the place that Up is a delight. A superbly created lead character, some great gags both slapstick and satire and some magical visual moments, this shows just how far ahead Pixar is of every other animation house. Lovely stuff.

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