December 12, 2009

What a Surprise: Pixar's 'Up' Didn't Let Me Down

It's possible that the first 15 minutes of Pixar's latest triumph, Up, are the saddest of any animated film in history...and that includes Bambi and Watership Down.

This is no ordinary kids' movie. In fact, it's really a movie for adults disguised as a cartoon.

But it's really more than that, anyway.

Up, directed smoothly by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, is the story of an elderly widower (voiced by the amazing Ed Asner) who takes his house on a balloon trip to South America, where he yearns to see his childhood fantasyland, Paradise Falls. A significant suspension of disbelief is required when viewing this film--more so, perhaps, than any other Pixar film, even Ratatouille, which convinced me, despite my desire to resist, that rats could become great French chefs--owing to the extraordinary circumstances in the widower's life that somehow mesh together in the everyday. Still, this is a small challenge to take on...the film's rewards are much greater.

And they are myriad. A gigantic female bird named "Kevin" who squawks threateningly at anyone it dislikes but is loyal to a T. An army of "talking" dogs that serve (and eat) dinner whilst speaking in bizarre complete sentences. And, of course, the animation, as gorgeous as always, and yet highly stylized...which is part of the reason why I'm in awe of this film. This relatively "unrealistic" animation generated a movie that was much more moving than Robert Zemeckis' Beowulf or most other cartoons attempting a more fluid realism.

I'm not sure why that is, but I'll tell you: I think it has something to do with Up's initial 15 minutes.

Unpretentiously, without resorting to bathos or sentiment, this small segment tells the tale of the widower's life...and perhaps gives good reason not to judge anyone in real life by his or her cover. It's spare, sublime storytelling--much of which is done without dialogue but edited, like the great silents, with precision.

And it beats Beowulf by a mile.

I don't think Up is as structured as earlier Pixar films such as Ratatouille or Monsters, Inc.; it does feel a bit as if it's been "made up along the way" (though I suspect that's far from the truth). But its powerful sentiments and brilliant touches make it spellbinding, and I'm glad I spent the time to watch it.

I just rue the fact that I didn't bring any hankies.


  1. Grave of the Fireflies wins saddest animated film ever by about 5000 miles. Up was sad, but it's not even close. I really think they did a good job with the central character in Up because you're right the story did feel a bit sporadic, but he's the glue that keeps it together.

  2. I'll have to see Grave of the Fireflies, Univarn--thanks for the recommendation! Sometimes I'm in the mood to see something "sad"...I have no idea why. Maybe it's just a way to alter the pace. :-)