Jun 8, 2009

Up (2009): B

Up is quintessential Pixar, which is to say, it bears witness to both the accomplished artistry one comes to expect from a studio now enjoying its tenth (and tenth consecutive) critical and box office hit, as well as the well-worn formulas apparent in most bodies of mainstream cinema. To these eyes, Pixar hasn’t made an outright bad film to date (although Cars treads awfully close at times), and has in fact been a paragon of virtue as regards the telling of tried-and-true tales with a genuine sense of urgency. Nevertheless, while expertly rendered, the last third of Up is schematic compared to the assured and breathtaking first hour. An opening sequence, in which elderly protagonist Carl Fredricksen's (Edward Asner) life story is told (and, implicitly, that of his wife, Ellie), ranks with WALL-E’s first half as Pixar’s finest moment to date. Rather than give up his dreams in old age and enter assisted living, Carl—an accomplished balloon salesman in his time—ties some thousands of balloons (echoes of Herzog’s The White Diamond) to his home and makes way for Paradise Falls, South America, the wish-fulfilling journey he and Ellie never made in her lifetime. En route, Carl discovers an inadvertent stowaway: Russell (Jordan Nagai), an eager Wilderness Scout trying to complete a merit badge when he mistakenly boarded the soon-to-be airship. The vignettes that follow in their adventure are inflective and revealing, touching on the film’s themes of spiritual comfort via the tenuous interactions of the films eclectic characters. Alas (spoilers ahead), the late addition of an antagonistic feels disingenuously like a studio machine clicking into place where a beautiful, wild organism once roamed, and the incurred tonal disjunction proves enough to damage the film’s very foundation as well as the genuinely bittersweet ending. Far more lopsided than WALL-E, Up fails to reach the stratosphere.

56 comments:

  1. I suppose I agree about the film's turn toward more commercial considerations in its final third (but then, I'm one of the people that thought WALL-E suffered just a bit from a similar need to pander to the kiddie set in its second half), and it is a bit disappointing to see the film paint its villain in such broad strokes (even the supposedly villainous critic-figure from Ratatouille was granted a moment of humility and grace at the end).

    Still...I'm mostly a sucker for the kind of action fireworks the film delivers at the end, and so I pretty much surrendered to it, final showdown and all, maybe against my better critical judgment. And I think its more profound ideas---most resonantly, this idea that even a comparably "ordinary" life is a kind of adventure---still survive.

    So yeah, I basically dig this movie, warts and all.

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  2. Goy, I didn't much care for this one, I'm sorry to say. I think you're granting it too much credit by saying it sustains anything for over its first half--- the movie pretty much lost me about 15 minutes in. Yes, that montage showing Lou Grant and his wife is touching, but the moment it ends Pixar plays his status as a lonely, bitter old man nearing the end of his life for cheap laughs; what with the "Habanera" on the soundtrack and Pixar's infantile version of slapstick. To me, this made the rest of the sappy stuff (which there is a lot of) ring false.

    And then the fat, ugly, annoying child (the only kind of child in Pixar's universe--- question: why do they hate the very same demographic that has made them filthy, stinking rich?) comes into play it gets pretty much insufferable. Its example of humor is just infantile--- slapstick, toilet humor, bad puns. It's idea of 'adult' humor is a reference to the Painting of the dogs playing poker.

    And Pixar's so busy focusing on the generic plot mechanics when they reach the island that the image of the house flying becomes oh-so-passé. Um, what the fuck, Pixar? A HOUSE IS FLYING! Can you imagine if Herzog got bored with the image of the boat going up a mountain in Fitzcarraldo?

    I really liked Partly Cloudy, though, their best short yet and unlike Up it actually used the 3-D creatively.

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  3. I passed on Up in 3D, so no comment on that. I'll probably be doing so for every film until Avatar.

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  4. Hey Rob: like Roger Ebert, do you have a general aversion to 3-D? Just curious.

    Btw, regarding Up, I saw it in 3-D found the fact that I didn't much notice the 3-D to be a positive rather than a negative (though, admittedly, Coraline did do more imaginative stuff with the format). And I did find the Partly Cloudy short cute, too.

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  5. The critic reveals the soul of a poor writer, leaving behind any depth or consequence as he strives to dazzle us with his ill-chosen words. If you care to master the craft, pay attention to Cormac McCarthy. Whatever opinion you contrived of this motion picture has been lost in your tangled prose.

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  6. Damn Donald, it must suck being so above everybody. All alone on your perch.

    Kenji, to me the trade-off of seeing unimaginative 3D and seeing the film's extraordinary color-pallet a shade darker wasn't a fair one. I found myself peaking through the glasses on several occasions so I could actually look at the movie.

    I just feel like Disney said "Underlings! We need a 3D picture. What are you working on now?"

    "It's a touching odyssey about an old man, and the quest for adventure, and eternal youth and..."

    "SHUT UP! WE need a 3D picture, now, it's all the rage!"

    "Well, this movie wasn't really made for 3..."

    "Silence! You will make this old man movie in the third dimension! And make sure you add a talking dog, we need more talking dogs in our products. Our accountants say our stock will go up 30 percent if you add talking dogs to your movies."

    "All right, whatever. Just leave me alone, dude. I'll do whatever you want if you promise to leave me alone and pay me big."

    Pixar and Disney, a beautiful friendship.

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  7. I'm sorry... I get carried away sometimes.

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  8. kenji: No general aversion to 3D here, and I actually found its implementation in Coraline to be rather good, even beneficial to the storytelling in a manner deeper than the technology itself. I guess I should say, unless I already hear good things about a particular film's 3D (which, for Coraline, I did), I'll skip out and stick with good 'ol 2D.

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  10. Gotcha. Yeah I would say seeing Up in 3-D is not absolutely essential, so you're probably not missing much.

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  11. Anonymous4:49 PM

    Disliked this one. Perhaps the realism of the pathos worked so well in the early part of the film that accepting silly premises of adventure (balloon, talking dogs, undiscovered monster birds) didn't allow the dark moment to end. Nothing pulled out of the sadness because it didn't feel as real (I felt untruthfully dealt with). It *is* saying something that a film can get this emotional in its sad bits (especially an animation), but it overbalanced the uplifting bits. I cried all through the "uplifting finale" and then resented the movie for leaving me there.

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  12. Anonymous7:27 AM

    This reviewer and commenters are engaged in nothing more than a penis measuring match. Hit the next button.

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  13. And yet, anon, the only one here who would qualify as a dick would be you. Tell me, why didn't you hit the next button? We'd all be much better off in that eventuality.

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  14. The polarized glasses version of 3-D still leaves a lot to be desired in my opinion. If the images are too dark they end up being shaded out by the glasses. Too bright and the light can bleed through the wrong lens. Of course I can't imagine those bulky LCD shutter shades being all that comfortable for any movie over an hour. I'm hoping Cameron's years of 3D experimentation is well aware of this, or Avatar may not be "teh eye ball sex" we're all desiring.

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  15. I thought it was a pretty good movie. Great actually. The moments when it calms down are very touching and the recurring motif in the music is a tune that sticks in my head so much that I whistle it as I walk along.

    It has to walk an edge since it's a kids movie and I think it do so pretty well. The final act is amazing since you've got this flying house chasing down this dirigible to a triumphant score, and loved the throwback design of the dirigible's interior.

    I think the characters are wonderful even if the villain is somewhat one sided, to be somewhat expected since the hint is that he's simply obsessed with his hunt to the point of madness. But the kid was full of life, really reminded me of some of the students that I work with.

    And loved how they characterized the house as Ellie, seeing it burn and suffer for the middle act was really just watching her die again for him and for the audience. Really good movie.

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  16. Daishi: I like your assessment and enthusiasm, and in its better moments, this was largely how I felt, too. This is one that, time (and money) pending, I'll see again. At this point, were I to compile a Best of 2009 list, the first half of "Up" would be somewhere in the top 10, and I'd be more than happy to be able to include the second half. Here's to hoping it goes down better next time.

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  17. Anonymous12:09 PM

    I went in wanting to like this film, and left very disappointed. The first half was ok, then it just disintegrated into meanspirited action.

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  18. Anonymous3:27 PM

    If you didn't like Up you are a fucking retard. Nice blog faggot.

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  20. You were right, Ryan. Here come the IMDb masses.

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  21. And they are gonna kick your loser ass up and down the internet. Don't you know, we NEED uniformity of opinion. Dissent will not be tolerated. Sieg Heil mein Pixar!

    Burning question: why are people such whores for Disney? At least, Disney with a Pixar stamp on it. Something tells me if Bolt was marketed as a Pixar film it would be 99% fresh on rotten tomatoes and hailed as a masterpiece of our time.

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  22. I think that for the majority of people, Pixar knows how to play the heart strings. If you look across the board, people are loving the film, and this is consistent with many of Pixar's films. They know how to zero in on a theme or emotion and draw it out of the audience, even if in a simple manner.

    The fact that so few films address the realities of old age and the sorrow included in that journey at times, is one reason I respect Up. I think a lot of people don't think about the part of their life, and Up allows people to see that some journeys must end, but it doesn't mean the end of YOUR journey, difficult as it might be to move on.

    I think Pixar has been consistently good in telling simple stories that both adults and children can, for the most part, enjoy. I think it's also very difficult to do that. When you have the college crowd praising Up (which I work with enough to have gotten a decent, subjective assessment) then hear parents or kids saying the same, you see that a film is really zeroing in on some things that all people relate to.

    Now as to whether Up stands up to another film with more weight or serious tackling of these issues, probably not, but I don't think that's the point. I took it on its terms, much the same way I can take a much more heavy handed film on its terms and appreciate it there too.

    However, it's useless to hate on another person's opinion when everything is subjective in this regard; though we have measure of what's good and bad, and some opinions have more validity (imo) based on evidence, experience and the like, arguments from authority are pretty bogus too. If everyone had hated Up, I still would have liked it, because I went it with a pretty sour opinion of what I was about to see.

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  23. Anonymous2:15 AM

    Hated Wall-E. Loved Up. Anyone with me?

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  24. "Hated Wall-E. Loved Up. Anyone with me?"

    Morons and people without taste are the only ones that are with you.

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  25. "Morons and people without taste are the only ones that are with you."

    Boy do I wish blogger came with asshole protection.

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  26. Anonymous4:02 PM

    Yeah, I love parts of Wall-E, but the whole film was a 'beautiful' downer.

    Up deals with some very large ideas in a playful way. The realization that our idols may fall, that love will run its course and then leave us alone, that no matter what hits us, we must keep going and find joy in those that share our chosen path.

    For those reasons, and accepting that it IS designed for a broad audience, I really liked it.

    I also thought a talking golden retreaver was hilerious. "Squirrel!" Not just your average cute talking animal, but an innocent and well meaning character that we can all relate to at times, and that was the point.

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  27. Anonymous8:35 PM

    some of these comments border on retarded.

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  28. read your review of the movie. perhaps maybe you can read my post on it and i'm interested in knowing what you think from my perspective. thanks

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  29. Anonymous6:21 AM

    The married-life montage was indubitably one of the most beautiful works of art Pixar has ever produced. However, I must agree that the movie did go downhill afterwards. I honestly didn't like the bird; it didn't seem to fit right in the movie.

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  30. I honestly didn't like the bird; it didn't seem to fit right in the movie.

    For me, part of the point of Up is that you never really know what you'll find if you embrace your sense of adventure. Is the bird any less "right" in this context than dogs with translating collars, some of whom can fly planes?

    Also, the quests of the bird and Fredricksen present some interesting parallels and contrasts, in my mind: both are heading to some place they'd call home, but home for them mean different things.

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  31. Anonymous1:12 PM

    Sooo, I'm taking two little girls to see this movie tomorrow. They are the ages of 11 and 7. Is this a good movie for them to see?

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  32. Boy, this review was right on the money. I was amazed and moved by the first half of the movie, including the part where the old man met his boyhood hero. Why did the explorer have to turn into such a 1-dimensional villain? He could have been a rich, exciting character, and shared all sorts of things with the other two as he joined them on their journey. As it was, the creation and sudden abandonment of this potentially great character really took me out of the movie. The whole frantic chase with the dirigible was wasted screen time, IMO, that should have been spent on adventures the three main characters could have had together. Not every movie needs a stock Cruella DeVille villain. It's almost like the writers were unable to complete the ideas and themes they so masterfully initiated, so they punted and essentially changed movies on us.

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  33. virginiapicker: I think you said things with more clarity (and appropriate nastiness) than I was able to conjure in my review (indeed, I wrote it just after seeing the film, when I was more inclined to forgive its disappointments). I dig the whole notion that our idols can fail or turn bad, but I felt like he was, as you put it, broadly drawn in that Cruella DeVille fashion (at least she WAS pure evil).

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  34. I actually loved both this and WALL-E through and through, and will gladly add this flick to my PIXAR canon (I adored all but Cars, which I *liked*). I've decided it's not terribly important to fully understand why someone else doesn't like the same movies you do, but rather to accept the fact that they do. There's no need for intolerable name-calling like "retard" because someone doesn't like it. If this were some volatile hate-letter to PIXAR with overly cynical overtones and a lot more reading-in on the film than necessary, then I'd be one to add some criticism of my own. I agree it gets more formulaic, yet I was still greatly entertained by the formula used.

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  35. I understand the dislike of the development of the villain. That I truly do understand.

    However I love the action scenes of the dirigible. The house swooping in with the score, the over-the-top nature of it, just really made me smile.

    It was one of those moments where I was reminded how movies and especially cartoons do things you can't get away with in other mediums, and just make you feel like a kid.

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  36. virginiapicker: "Why did the explorer have to turn into such a 1-dimensional villain?"

    Well, he had spent in excess of sixty years searching for the bird. That kind of obsession begets madness. To me, his mind having anything more than that one track would have felt entirely wrong.

    While I did thoroughly enjoy Up - and in particular "Dug", the sass-less, attitude-free talking dog who, like all dogs, wants nothing more than to please his master - I felt it stretched just a bit too far in parts. If only because Up seemingly wants to be both the most grown-up and most kid-friendly Pixar feature to date.

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  37. Anonymous5:31 AM

    WARNING: SPOILERS:

    I didn't like the montage at the beginning. Pixar loves montages and uses them in almost all their films, perhaps as a crutch. It never worked for me in UP because I can't bond with a character I only really see in montage format.

    And because we only catch a glimpse of Ellie before this, I felt like the death sequence was a cheap shot at our hearts in a very uncreative way; it felt disingenuous to me. Contrast that to the pan-across-photos piece in Who Framed Roger Rabbit which showed Eddie's brother and relationship with the girl; it was much more subtle, a bit more creative than a standard montage, but still very effective at doing everything it had to do, and didn't weigh as heavy on the heart (which I didn't think UP needed to do to be effective).

    In UP the opening just fell short for me; sad, but superficially so since I didn't know the characters. A cheap shot at the heart. And then, pixar doesn't have time to show any "aha" moment for the whole balloon plan, which makes suspension of disbelief a bit difficult.

    Overall I just though the film had a ton of pacing issues and sloppy, hard-to-overlook issues with the story.

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  38. Regarding the "aha" moment for the balloons, the set up's there -- from foreshadowing with the floating sales cart to when the guys from the retirement home come to pick him up and comment on his yard, which is full of helium containers.

    Fantastic film. Sorry, I disagree with the OP.

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  39. Anonymous12:20 PM

    Note: Disney reinvented 3-D. Check Walt Disney World for proof i.e., Bug's Life & Mickey's Philharmagic.

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  40. While a lot of people here are criticizing Muntz for being so one-sided, I see it as the exact opposite. Throughout the entire beginning he is the major catalyst for Carl and Ellie meeting, marriage, and life together, the inspiration for the savings jar for Paradise Falls, and the tickets bought at the end of her life.

    Then, when Carl finally meets his childhood hero, he seems as he was in the newsreel, but as his obsession is revealed, the character's turn is not only incredibly believable, but also frightening. I forgot I was looking at animation during those moments and thought I was watching a live performance.

    Also, having seen the film in both 3D and "standard" 2D, I hope the Blu-Ray release includes a 3D copy. The 3D wasn't for gags, like Monsters vs Aliens was, but to add depth and realism to the film. I feel like I miss part of the film when I see it in 2D.

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  41. I find your blog and your opinions refreshing. Fuck the haters. You and your more illuminated commenters are a pleasure to read.

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  42. Anonymous8:10 PM

    Anonymous said: "I cried all through the 'uplifting finale' and then resented the movie for leaving me there." Me, too. I understood the message that they were trying to convey, but it didn't come close to trumping old age, death, and lost dreams.

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  43. Anonymous1:25 PM

    "Why did the explorer have to turn into such a 1-dimensional villain?"

    I think it Pixar was hinting that our childhood heroes are not all they are cracked up to be.

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  44. Anonymous7:43 AM

    More of a summary than a review.

    Fix it.

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  45. how many mad hits did you get from rottentomatoes

    damn

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  46. professorroyhinkley8:58 AM

    First, the 3D: I was glad to see that a film could use 3D to enhance the picture instead of the occasional for-no-reason thing flying out of the screen. It just added a bit. Deeper meaning? Other films using it better? Not the point.

    I suppose actual movie reviewers would tend to look at the minutia and find fault when a film doesn't go in a more complicated / predictable / lesson-teaching direction as they feel it should, but to say it wasn't good? It was a good movie. Pixar did a terrific job for kids and adults alike (unlike Wall-E). This movie had fun, great graphics, a terrific story, deep characters... good stuff.

    sorry folks... Wall-E sucked. I prefer to go to the movies for an escape, for fun, for entertainment, not a 90 minute lesson on the environment. Of course, this isn't the opinion you "should" have, and maybe I'm just one of the "imdb masses"... hmmmm, maybe I shouldn't be reading reviews on such an esteemed movie review site with comments from those who are clearly more cultured, intelligent and deep than me ... sorry Rob & Ryan.

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  47. Midgard Dragon once posted on a post of mine, too - one in which I also expressed my dislike of WALL-E. I think he just trawls Blogger, like a vigilante with an EVE mask, swearing at people who don't share his opinions.

    On another note, being berated by someone who calls himself (come on, it MUST be a dude) "Midgard Dragon" is but one of the reasons why we do what we do.

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  48. I had to go back to see UP again, because I felt I hadn't gotten enough of the story of Mr. Fitzgerald and Ellie. I had to go and visit them again as though I had missed something and maybe the second time I could grab it and hang on to it. On second viewing I realized, it was just like the trajic violent death of my 27 year od son. I have often felt that I missed something and I wish I could return and grab more of him and to give more to him. Just like the first half of the movie, my past went by so fast:my son was killed and that was that. I kept wondering why I had to drag my bored husband back only two days later to see UP again. By the end of the movie, I was encouraged that a child (wife. whoever) does not belong to us, like Kahil Gibron said. He said omething like a child does not belong to us but to life itself and is the product not of a man and a woman, of life longing for itsef. (Forgive me if I horribly misquoted, but I was only 13 when I read it and used it to tell my father he had no bussiness telling me what to do.) Letting go and going on to the new adventure seems like life is still is still trying to break free out of us even after we experience a terrible death inside of us. Sorry if this sounds trite, but let's say the movie spoke to me. I am curious if some litterary critics would also say that Jesus' parrables were shallow or that the rich man who wouldn't help Lazarous was a one sided villain. By the way,the image that sticks most with me is the one of the old man dragging the house by himself. That's how I felt for a long time carrying around my guilt and regrets and hating myself for years after my sons death. The movie was grand . I've got to see it yet again and then buy it and watch it once a month ( or is that itself like dragging the old house around with me?) I will put it's images in my mind's photo album along with my son's autopsy picture and the pictures of my 16 year old brodly smiling son in his sky blue tie-died shirt standing with his gorgeus girlfriend on top of a mountain in Texas.
    Joanie

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  49. Anonymous8:14 AM

    Virginiapicker:The whole movie was such a let- down for me.I completely agree with your opinion about Muntz turning into such a villainous character.I feel like the whole concept of "explorer" dedicating his life to finding that holy grail was just made so ridiculous, that all his life's work disappeared in that fight between him and Karl. There was so much potential for the three of them and their pack of dogs (the way they portrayed the "fierce" doberman so one-dimensionally would be another rant altogether!) to have an adventure that needn't have been so "good vs. evil".

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  50. Peter Sanders12:16 PM

    I did agree with the review, and the comments about WallE. The film loses its way after a wonderful start, and, as with many Pixar films, just becomes a chase. I found the dogs annoying - the film had half a foot in reality up to then. They seemed to run out of ideas and just kept throwing talking dogs and the same squirrel joke at it. The little boy is never helpful, and the old man's u-turn is not believable. I thought the star of the movie was the house, which returns to the falls at the end, where all the memorabilia has been dumped, to maintain the memories...

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  51. Anonymous3:27 AM

    Thank you so very much for sharing your intelligent viewpoint about up.

    I just saw the 2d version and none of the 3d perks could have sold me.

    This said I am still shocked it got 98% rating and best picture.

    It pretty much is the worse pixar film to date for me. Far worse than Cars because at least Cars was set up to be a fantasy world with cars that talked. You were PREPARED for something silly and out of this world. But sad to say CARS was more realistic than this one.

    This one actually felt realistic in the beginning and was a masterpiece. If only it ended there for it turned out to be absolutely crazy at the end.

    I didn't like it even though yes i did laugh at the scenes with dug. Dug is the saving grace that made that movie tolerable for me. Other than that everything good was unfortunately all given away in the trailers.

    There is nothing I really liked about the movie except the first 10 minutes. The first 10 minutes was pixar quality. The rest, not so.

    I was expecting to be whisked away but I ended up spending 20 minutes at the end chasing after a stupid chicken.

    And I have no hate towards chicken. I like them fried and with some honey mustard on the side.

    But seriously why do people love this but hate on Ratatouille? Even Wall-E was OK. But to me Ratatouille was told with wit, heart and charm. But the plot in this one? What plot?

    In Up, the kid was selfish, the old man was stupid not to tie balloons to the house when his wife was alive, and just the whole lack of well...REALISM (hello floating HOUSE with OLD man who uses cane can be moved by said old man with cane) and inconsistency just makes me feel frustrated.

    It's sloppily written and rushed. If this is the sign of what Disney Pixar is going to come up with in the future, they've lost 2 viewers.

    Yes, it was that bad to us. Disney Pixar or not we judge on quality not brand.

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  52. I loved up and cars is great I don't think you had childhood

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  53. Maybe the 10 minute masterpiece that is the 'married life' sequence left people who expected more of the same, with a hollow feeling. Maybe the talking dog 'squirrel' and 'I just met you and I love you' acts were too innovatively funny for the rest of the movie to match up to.

    However, I don't think that the heights those moments reach are undone by the rest of the movie, since for me, those heights would not be as enjoyable otherwise.

    Excellent, innovative and must-watch as far as I am concerned.

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  54. @Sameer: I've actually been meaning to go back and revisit Up in writing, having seen it again late in its theatrical run and having, more or less, come to terms with its flaws and finding myself able to confine them to the margins of what is otherwise a wonderful film. What disappointed me so strongly at first made me feel it was a minor failure - now I see it as a flawed masterpiece.

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  55. @rub humanick Man been a while since I visited the blog (I think it went without an update for a bit there and I have a short attention span? I dunno). But I do remember arguing for Up, and am a bit surprised to see you changed your mind!

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