I read a discussion of Up recently — I don’t remember where — which said that the movie was ultimately about acceptance of death, which is an awfully adult theme to find in a kids’ film. (Truth be told, of course: Pixar movies are family movies, not kids’ movies, and there’s a big difference.) I think that statement’s close, but not quite accurate: it’s more fair to say Up deals with the ability or inability to accept change in all its forms and learning to let go of the past, whether that past was one or seventy years ago. Up reminds us that when someone we love passes on — or even just passes out of our lives — life doesn’t end for those of us left behind. Up suggests we appreciate the little things in life and that those little things can be bigger than the biggest adventure.
And Up gives us these weighty messages wrapped up in the gaudy Mylar of thousands of helium-filled balloons.
As I discussed in my ranking of the ten Pixar movies to date, the “worst” (for some awfully lenient definition of “worst”) of their films don’t engage the emotions nearly as much as they engage the eyes. That fault most certainly does not plague Up – I have to admit that I cried while watching it, and I can’t remember if I’ve ever done that before. Pixar started their career by finding the humanity in inhuman characters (toys, bugs, monsters, etc.), but in Carl Frederickson they’ve created quite possibly their most human character yet.
Director Pete Docter lays out all we need to know about Carl in the first ten minutes of the movie, covering sixty-odd years of his life during the opening sequences. His crankiness is given believability and meaning; grumpy though he may be, he doesn’t fit the simple Grumpy Old Man stereotype. Carl is not ill-tempered by nature but by circumstance, and it’s the circumstance of meeting Russell, his young opposite, which begins to bring him out of his emotional hole.
Russell couldn’t be much more Carl’s antithesis: young where Carl is old; optimistic and exuberant where Carl is withdrawn and cranky; brave and adventurous where Carl is shuttered. Even visually the difference is clear: Carl is almost a perfect square, Russell is almost a perfect egg. What the two have in common is something of a common history, and the bond which develops because of it, each affecting the other, ultimately provides much of Up’s lift.
|Directed By:||Pete Docter Bob Peterson|
|Written By:||Bob Peterson Pete Docter|
|Starring the voices of:||Edward Asner Christopher Plummer Jordan Nagai John Ratzenberger|
I must talk for a minute about the dogs which feature so prominently in Up. To see just what an amazing feat of modeling and animation these dogs represent, what a leap in quality, please go back and watch the first Toy Story. Even at the time, watching Buster felt like a “they’re not quite there yet” moment in the middle of an otherwise technologically mind-blowing (again, for 1995) movie: his square, awkward build and clunky animation left plenty of room for improvement.
And improve they did. Each of the dogs here has not only a distinctive and well-rendered look, but a clear and well-animated personality as well. Dug was especially done well: his character model may be cartoonier than the other dogs’, but that more cartoony look allowed for more expressiveness, which the animators used to fantastic effect. His look also visually sets him apart from the other, more realistically-modeled dogs so that we never group him in with the “bad” dogs. Dug stands out as my favorite character in the movie: the fact that he always remains Just A Dog and never an especially “humanized” or anthropomorphized dog (even though he could speak) was one of Docter’s nicest touches.
 I cried during The Iron Giant, but that’s totally different since I saw it on DVD. Brad Bird lined up all of my emotional buttons and punched them all at once. The big meanie.