2 November 2009

Up Review

It's likely that at this juncture, you've heard about the first 10 minutes of Up. Be it from a review, or indeed from anyone who's seen the movie, there is a rather good reason for this - it's among the finest pieces of animation that you will see for a long time. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about the rest of the film - despite the fact that it is fully brimming with the wit, invention and charm that Pixar are so very good at. It's not that the film is bad. Far from it, in fact, this is one of the best films you'll see this year. The problem is that it flirts rather too closely with disappointment, and this is something of a first for Pixar.

Essentially a mismatched buddy comedy done Pixar style, Up tells the story of an old gent named Carl Frederickson, who has led a genuinely amazing life as a balloon salesman. We get a brief glimpse of this at the start - remember how we talked about the first 10 minutes? - but the main story kicks off just after Carl's wife and childhood sweetheart dies of old age. Carl becomes a recluse, regretting his forgotten promises to Ellie and seemingly just waiting to die. Until, that is, he decides that he can do something about it, straps balloons to his house and flies to South America - specifically, a place called Paradise Falls, where he and Ellie always dreamed of seeing. Unexpectedly, a young 'Wilderness Explorer' accidentally stows away onboard, and the ensuing adventure to get the house perched atop the Falls sees them get entangled with Carl's childhood hero Charles F Muntz and his army of talking dogs, whose pursuit of a rare bird turns decidedly psychotic.

Detaching oneself from its forebears, the film is nearly immeasurably good. Once again, the boundaries of realism are pushed ever further by those tenacious RenderMan-jocks, with some of the vistas of a non-specific South American jungle so vivid and lifelike that there are a couple of moments where you may well find yourself wondering if you're watching a nature documentary. Director Pete Docter handles everything rather deftly - from his incredible, emotional journeys into Carl's psyche to his bold action sequences to the nearly impossible task of making a talking dog charming instead of annoying, Docter melds them all into something that will make you laugh, cry and stay perched on the edge of your seat. Sometimes all three at the same time.

There are, however, a few niggling complaints that ebb into your thoughts when you do take into account the trash robots, talking cars, toys and rats. Despite clocking in at a kids'-backside-friendly 96 minutes, the actual plot is spread incredibly thinly over the fantastic locations and wondrous characters. Considering that Pixar have made name for themselves with their hefty story-telling abilities, this does leave you feeling a little short-changed as you walk out the cinema. There's also very little invested in building up the antagonist so that his demise actually feels like a victory - after those wondrous first 10 minutes, he's barely in the film until his spectacular exit.

Finally, and ultimately this is Up's central flaw - the film simply feels like it has its emotionally payoff too early. To fully explain why is to spoil the utter majesty of the moment, and if there is a more spectacularly ambitious way to derail your movie, I can't think of it. But the simple fact is that after those staggeringly gorgeous first 10 minutes, there is almost nothing in the rest of the movie that can rival it - barring a reference back to those 10 minutes that will jerk tears - and it feels all the poorer for it. And whilst Wall-E had enough magic and wonder after its opening to pull this feat off, Up just falls short, and this, as I say, borders dangerously close to disappointment.

Take heart, though - this is still Pixar, and is still utterly, utterly wonderful. If any other studio had produced this film, five stars would be the order of the day. But the sad fact is that Pixar are capable of so much more, and that is genuinely saying something given just how incredible this 'misfire' is. See it.

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