At the heart ofÂ UP is a story about an old man learning to appreciate the beauty and adventure of a life full of love, no matter how mundane that life may be.Â It’s a really touching and poignant story with a lot of Pixar heart, which above anything else is the defining characteristic of Pixar’s incredible body of work.Â Unfortunately, UP also features an action-packed plotline with cute animals, a kid in mortal danger, and an evil bad guy, as my kids would say.Â The action plotline isn’t bad, really. It’s cute and funny enough, and the kids are sure to like it.Â It’s just kind of cliche and a bit distracting from the true heart of the movie.
That’s similar to how I feel about WALL-E: the love story between WALL-E and EVE is really beautifully and artfully done, and is the true heart of the film, while the action plotline with the captain vs. the auto pilot, the humans returning to Earth, and the environmentalist themes, is kind of a distraction.
These action plotlines are probably necessary, though, so I can’t really fault the filmmakers for including them. For one thing, they need to get a big audience so they can keep making these expensive animated films and action-packed fun is more likely to fill theaters than subtle arty films, no matter how well-done they are. For another thing, at least in the case of UP, the old man and his dead wife storyline, though really beautiful and touching, probably isn’t dramatic or suspenseful enough to carry a film on its own, especially a kids’ film. There was a point around the end of the first act when I started wondering to myself how they were going to make the old man’s quest to move his house to just the right spot interesting for the next hour. That’s when the cute/funny animals arrived to spice things up.
All that said, you should see UP. The first five minutes alone are worth the price of admission. We meet the old man and his wife as adventure-seeking children. They start their own little club and make big plans for an adventure to Paradise Falls in South America. Then, in a classic cinematic “show, don’t tell” sequence we follow the couple through their long, simple life filled with love and happiness, but also sorrow, disappointment, and ultimately regret as the old man loses his wife before he can give her the adventure he promised. I almost cried twice. It’s probably the best film sequence I’ve seen since the first act of WALL-E.
If you’ve seen the ads you know what happens next: the old man, lonely, embittered, and frustrated, ties thousands of helium balloons to the home that he shared with his wife for all those years, intent on making good on his promise to take her to Paradise Falls. But, of course, the sailing isn’t smooth. He finds an accidental stowaway boy scout, runs into stormy weather, and gets knocked unconscious. He wakes up somewhere over South America and descends in the vicinity of Paradise Falls. The old man then has to drag the floating house and the yappy kid to just the right spot, trying his best not to get distracted by talking dogs and the endangered female bird named Kevin that the dogs are hunting.
In the midst of all the craziness, just before the action climax, there’s a quiet moment where the old man looks at a scrapbook that his wife put together before she died. It’s another beautiful little sequence that bookends with the opening of the film and really ties up that storyline in a satisfying way.
The visuals are amazing, of course. I saw it in 3-D and really loved the look and the colors. There’s a surreal distortion of scale throughout the movie that was magnified by the 3-D effects. Unfortunately, something was screwy with the theater where I saw it and there was a muddiness to it that I didn’t experience with Coraline 3-D. I should have asked for a refund, but it was late and I didn’t want to bother.
The customary short film before the feature was a really cute story about a misfit cloud that makes babies of all species and the misfit stork that delivers them. It wasn’t as funny as Presto, but it was humorous and nice to look at.