Wednesday, June 10, 2009

478 - Up review



Why is it that Pixar, that wonderful animation company, seems to be the only movie studio left capable of producing a sure thing? I often tell people one of the tricks to film reviewing: never expect a movie to be great or absolutely awful. But it’s hard to stay faithful to this idea when sitting down to a Pixar film, with their gloriously beautiful visuals and inventive, joyous stories.

“Up” is the latest Pixar success, a whimsical journey through the rainforests of Venezuela that’s as magically entertaining as it is heartfelt and delicately poignant. Its hero is Carl Fredrickson (Edward Asner), an elderly man who spends his desperately lonely days lamenting the death of Ellie, his beloved wife. In a lovely early sequence, we see Carl and Ellie as childhood sweethearts, where they watched newsreels about a famous adventurer and dreamed of a daring life where the sky was the limit. As their life passes by, visions of grand travels and family are supplanted by the unfortunate reality and quieter pleasures. Now old and alone, his life void of meaning, Carl decides to see how limitless the sky truly is by tying thousands of helium-filled balloons to his house, which uproots the structure from its foundation and sends it floating marvelously through the heavens.

Carl’s plan goes off with but one hitch: Russell (Jordan Nagai), a Junior Wilderness Explorer seeking a badge for assisting the elderly, has stowed away by mistake. Russell is a similarly lonely child with an absentee father, and though he endlessly grates on Carl’s nerves, the old man takes pity on the boy, surely recognizing a part of himself that time has mercilessly faded away.

Before long, Carl’s house-turned-airship reaches its destination, a South American rainforest with quite the lovely view. Here the story kicks into high gear as they make the acquaintanceship of Kevin, a huge, vibrant bird lost in time, and Dugg (Bob Peterson), a good dog with a mechanical collar that translates his thoughts into words. I’ll decline to spoil the secrets of the plot except to say that it’s among the best of its kind, engaging and riveting while satisfying tried-and-true convention.

The virtuosity of “Up” is simply stunning as well as stunningly simple. Many films these days look great, but there are countless moments here that plead with us to gape at the splendor: Carl’s house hoisted into the sky via thousands of colorful balloons, the playful prehistoric bird and kindly talking dog that latch themselves onto our heroes, the thrilling action scenes that propel the plot forward. But these all ultimately serve the narrative, a straightforward tale that insightfully looks at the value of exploring the treasures of life. The delights and laughs are plentiful and constant, the experience of unusual staying power.

“Up” reaches its emotional crescendo as Carl realizes the value of his newfound friendships, which leads to a rousing climax and a sweet, fitting epilogue. It’s a rare film that can suffuse such magnificent production value with a near-perfect story, functioning flawlessly as both must-see entertainment and great art.

4.5 out of 5

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