June 10, 2009

Up, Up, and Away - Movie Review

I was out of town the weekend Up was released, and I had always planned I would review the film upon returning. And its been several days since I saw the film and I couldn't bring myself to write anything on it until now - I think, in part, because I was so affected and so moved by Pixar's 10th feature film that it took me some time to process my thoughts on it.

Simply put, Up is wonderful. And I cried my face off.

Up doesn't have the flash of some of Pixar's other work - the intricate details of Finding Nemo, the vibrancy of Ratatouille, or the quiet loneliness of Wall-E - but it does possess a sweetness and grace that heralds a new wave of maturity in Pixar's work. Like Wall-E, Up begins with a mostly silent montage, and as in Wall-E, the opening sequence is the film's crowning achievement. In both films, I was bawling before the 20-minute mark.

Is Up a "funny" film? Not really. Will your kids like it? Meh. In a way, Up proves that neither of those things matter, and to call either of one a shortcoming is to miss the point completely. Unlike their contemporaries at Dreamworks, Fox, and - yes - even Disney, Pixar no longer panders to their film's ratings and perceived audience. With Wall-E and now, more definitively, Up, Pixar has broken out of its own genre constraints and rather than produce movies for "the kid in all of us," made that important step forward to create art that speaks to the person in all of us.

There are no toys that come to life in Up. No bugs, or superheroes, or monsters, or talking cars. We're given a world that has very little escapist fantasy at all - it's a place where tragedy happens, parents disappoint, and heroes don't measure up. Even Dug and the talking guard dogs - the film's one genre convention - are more of a commentary on the dangers of not questioning our leaders than they are your typical cute, cuddly animated pets.

Up is a film that slaps you sideways and breaks your heart with how unflinchingly identifiable it is. The beauty of Up is in the details - the soda cap pin Carl wears every day, the bird that sits on the mantle, a jar of coins, the painting over the fireplace. Like Carl, we all have objects we attach meaning to for one reason or another, and through these possessions, the house brings Ellie to life and becomes a character in its own right. Despite what the marketing materials may imply, Up is, at its core, a love story - between Carl and Ellie, between the past we can't leave behind and the present we have to face. It's a film about letting go, and moving on - and realizing you're never too old to have one last adventure.