Thursday, September 10, 2009

Review - Up

Director: Pete Docter
Running Time: 96 minutes
Australian Release Date: 3 September 2009
Review by Tom Clift

Pixar Animation Studios have always been in a league of their own, both in the quality of their animation and the superiority of their storytelling. It’s almost unfair to compare recent kid’s films such as Kung Fu Panda or Shrek - both of them decent movies in their own right - to the likes of Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, movies that put to shame anything being produced by rival studios. Then of course, last year, we saw WALL-E, a quantum leap forward from what was already a splenderously high level of standards. That film made me and many others reevaluate what a modern children’s film could be, and left us wondering if Pixar would ever be able to replicate that level of success. Up is the film that proves not only that they can replicate that success, but better it. It is a film that blends the best parts of all of Pixar’s previous films, and yet somehow manages to be utterly unique, and utterly wonderful. It is not only my favourite film of 2009, but my favourite Pixar film of all time, surpassing even WALL-E in terms of adventure, beauty and human emotion.

The story begins with a shy young boy, Carl Fredricksen, bonding with an outgoing young girl named Ellie over their mutual dreams of exploring the world. The pair fall in love, marry, and grow old together – a journey that is outlined in a gorgeous dialogue-free montage near the beginning of the film. The way a lifetime of love is communicated so beautifully using just music and images in this sequence in awe-inspiring, and if I had one complaint of Up, it would be that after such a superb first act, the film never quite manages to reach such insurmountable heights again. But I wouldn’t trade those scenes for anything in the world; the emotional effect that Ellie’s passing has on both Carl and the audience is incredible, and within ten minutes of the film starting I literally had tears in my eyes.

Carl, now a seventy-eight year old widower, lives alone, filled with regret about having never travelled to South America with his beloved Ellie. But after a run in with the law leaves him facing life in an aged care facility, Carl decides to go the adventure he never had. In another one of the films stunning visual set pieces, Carl attaches tens of thousands of helium balloons to his house and flies off to Paradise Falls in the jungles of Venezuela. His sabbatical is somewhat complicated however when he discovers that Russell, a plucky ten year old wilderness explorer, has stowed away aboard his house. Without giving away too much of the story, the duo end up pitted against a villainous old explorer, humourous hi-jinks ensue, and with the help of this unlikely friend, Carl finally learns to overcome his grief.

The beauty of the animation in this film is simply indescribable. Gorgeous, stunning, mesmerising; I can throw around all the synonyms I want, but you truly cannot appreciate it until you see it for yourself. There are so many individual moments throughout this film that could be frozen, framed, and hung on the wall of an art gallery for all to see. But it’s more than that. These aren’t just empty pictures to be analysed; there is true feeling behind every frame. We feel as though we have been with Carl his entire life, experiencing each of his emotions for ourselves. Such is the level of storytelling in this film that two worn armchairs sitting next to each can be as memorable an image as the sight of a thousand balloons floating against the crimson backdrop of a rising sun.

Where I think Up truly trumps WALL-E is in its sense of fun. Say whatever you like about that movies stunning visuals and thought provoking themes, at the end of the day a lot of those things are going to go straight over small children’s heads. While Up is undoubtedly as mature and intelligent a film as any of Pixar’s previous works, it is also a rip roaring comic adventure that kids are going to love. Maybe you could argue that this film gets a little silly as it goes on, but I think it’s ridiculous to hold that against what is, at its core, a movie for primary schoolers. With Up, I believe Pixar have found the perfect match of emotional maturity and light hearted entertainment, and because of this, kids who love this film when they’re five years old are going to be able to come back in ten, twenty, thirty years and enjoy it all the more.

Up is one of those rare movies that can be enjoyed by everyone, be you young, old or in between. It is entertaining, with a great story, terrific characters and heart warming message. It is funny, and manages to be so without having to resort to flatulence humour or inane pop-culture references. It is moving, capturing the full range of human emotions with inexplicable ease and captivating grace. It is one of the most beautiful, memorable, touching films I have ever had the privilege of watching. That much, I can explain with words. But words, as this movie proves, can only do so much. So if you want to understand how I truly feel about this film, go and experience it for yourself.

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