I am a great tracker. My pack sent me on a special mission, all by myself. Have you seen a bird? I am going to find one, and I am on the scent. I am a great tracker; did I mention that?
Runtime: 1 hour, 36 min
Genre: Family, Animation, Comedy, Adventure
MPAA Rating: PG
Starring: Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger
Amazon Link: Pixar’s UP
SYNOPSIS: Young Carl Fredrickson meets an adventure-minded girl named Ellie. Both dream of moving to Paradise Falls, an isolated plateau in South America. Seventy years later, Ellie has died and Carl is determined to fulfill their dreams of moving to Paradise Falls. When Carl inadvertently hits a construction worker, he is sentenced to a retirement home. But before they can take him away, he and his house fly away, along with a stowaway: an eight-year-old boy named Russell. Together, they embark in an adventure, encountering talking dogs, and a lost hero turned villain, and a rare bird named Kevin.
Up to this point, I have enjoyed Pixar’s movies, with the exception of the revulsion-inducing, vermin-infested “Ratatouille.” Even “Cars,” which was a bit too NASCAR for me, had a great story and fabulous characters. “Up,” unfortunately, does not meet Pixar’s previously high standards for storytelling.
Up’s uninteresting story of the old widower and his stowaway is technically competent with moments of visual inspiration: Carl’s balloons are like translucent gumballs, sunlight shines through them midflight and suffuses a little girl’s room with color. But heavy-handed sentimentality and a goofy, uninteresting script trump those artistic points.
As a child, Carl Fredrickson, already a young fogey, thrilled to the airborne adventures of daredevil explorer C.J. Muntz. But in retirement, Fredrickson, reminding us of a cartoon version of Spencer Tracy, sulks; acting every bit the geezer he is. But Carl is not an irascible curmudgeon – that might be interesting. Instead, he’s bland, old man whom life has largely passed him by, and the movie stalls before it starts. Russell, the overweight, not-very-bright, eight year old scout, is needless to say cute. I guess Pixar is hoping to capture the ‘American kids who are overweight’ (32%) demographic.
But Pixar doesn’t stop with the cute, fat kid – in fact, they simplify and cute-ify everything to the point of maudlin sentimentality. Even the montage showing Carl’s marriage to childhood sweetheart Ellie (their wedding, companionship, childlessness, then Ellie’s illness and death) is over-sentimentalized. It ends with Carl, alone, holding a blue balloon at Ellie’s funeral. Another montage of Carl leafing through the childless couple’s scrapbook is equally sappy, especially when you consider the logic of “Who took those pictures?”
In addition to over-sentimentality, “Up” trivializes too many issues: Carl and Russell’s loneliness, Carl’s ‘public menace’ court conviction and Carl’s heavily damaged house that ends up as nothing more than an empty shell abandoned on a barren cliff. To me, it’s pretty clear to me that Carl Fredricksen flies to Paradise Falls to ‘bury’ his wife and find his own grave. But Pixar would never fulfill that motive. Instead, the fat kid drags him on a goofy quest to save a rainbow-plumed bird. In other words, “Up” drops important issues and elements for chase mechanics and uninspired comedy gags: literal aerial dogfights, a chocolate-eating goony bird, and a Doberman stuck with a chipmunk’s voice. As the slapstick action is manically cranked up, lame jokes are repeated and promising critiques of old age, hero worship, unrealized dreams, and lost loved ones are tossed aside, resulting in a mushy, silly pop-cartoon.
On reflection, what bothers the most is that everything in it seems meticulously designed to elicit an emotional response from the audience, rendered in such broad brushstrokes of faux naiveté. Indeed Pixar seems so busy focusing on the generic plot mechanics and emotional touchpoints that when they reach the island, the image of the house flying becomes ho hum – just like the story. In the end, “Up” is hardly an offensive picture – at worst, it’s simply innocuous, and at best, it’s very, very pretty to look at.
Goozlepipe Rating: Didn’t Like It
Update (12/14): After reading this review, my eight year-old daughter wasn’t very happy with me. It seems she has a very different take on the film. So in the interest of fairness, here is her quick review:
I liked this movie – it had funny animals in it. The ‘baby’ Kevins were soooo cute, and I laughed when they threw up tennis balls. Dug was very funny too. You should watch UP; it will make you laugh.
Eight Year-Old Rating: Really Liked It