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Film Review: Up

Up (2009; Directed by Peter Docter)

Like all products of the Pixar factory, Up has engaging, recognizable characters, a solid plot and well-constructed sequences, heaps of emotional generosity, and a timeless, Old Hollywood quality to its humour that puts the desperate, knowing cultural references that pervade the products of the studio’s CGI animation competitors to shame. It should also go without saying that it’s completely lovely to look at throughout, although the use of 3D adds very little beyond a bit of depth to the landscapes.

But no one ought to have the slightest doubt about the technical and narrative prowess of Pixar at this point. Quality is assured, but transcendence is more fickle. Up begins with its most transcendent section, an exquisite 20-ish minutes of silent-film-style narrative that is saturated with affection and longing, intimacy and sadness. It’s a model of what Pixar accomplishes at their best: a children’s cartoon with intelligence and maturity, a film that artfully earns the hoary old marketing standby “fun for all ages”. The opening act recalls the much more ambitious start of Pixar’s previous crossover triumph, Wall-E. Both are imaginative and heartfelt, and ultimately elegiac; Zen, almost.

But it doesn’t stay that way, and Up soon reveals itself as a mixed bag of pleasures. Once Carl Fredrickson’s house takes flight (a fairly joyful moment that would have been more so if not for the image’s centrality in the film’s marketing campaign), Up becomes a simple adventure movie. A wondrous, often entertaining adventure film, yes, but really only an adventure film. The emotional weight built up so painstakingly in the prologue doesn’t really pay off, and there’s an absence of resonant buried ideas being dealt with, as in Pixar’s best works (particularly in Brad Bird’s films for the studio). That the film’s director, Pete Docter, was also at the helm for Monsters, Inc. (Pixar’s weakest effort that doesn’t involve talking cars) should maybe have been a hint to Up‘s direction.

Still, the film is not without its charms, with the talking dogs in particular providing some much-needed hilarity at key moments (“I just met you and I love you!”). And that astounding prologue proves that Pixar is still capable of great things, even in the midst of a less-than-great film like Up. It remains rather good, but the past work of the magic factory that produced it has lead us to expect better, as well we should.

Categories: Film, Reviews
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  1. January 8, 2013 at 8:45 pm
  2. August 4, 2015 at 1:34 pm

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