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Emotional Ups and downs from Pixar

July 31,2009
Pixar’s latest piece of magic, “Up,” is a lushly animated film that will make you laugh and delight you aurally. It stands shoulder to shoulder with the studio’s most recent triumphs such as “WALL-E” and “Ratatouille.”

Up, however, can be a real downer. In fact, it can be absolutely vicious. There are moments that stab you in the chest and twist until you’re on the verge of tears.

But don’t let that stop you from seeing it.

Ed Asner - perhaps known best for his character Lou Grant on the “Mary Tyler Moore” show during the 1970s, and since typecast as a curmudgeon for his live-action films and voice-work alike - plays Carl Fredricksen, a lonely widower, who, with nothing to lose, ties a zeppelin’s worth of helium balloons to his house for the ultimate journey to South America. But he’s accompanied by a stowaway: Russell (Jordan Nagai), a precocious boy scout just looking to earn a merit badge.

The two make it, via floating house, to Paradise Falls, a stunning waterfall surrounded by verdant valleys and landscapes that look so wonderful probably because the film’s directors actually journeyed to the Amazon to survey locations such as Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall.

But for a film inspired by real world imagery, the physics of a floating house, you can imagine, are quite cartoonish, as are many of the other aspects of the film - it being a cartoon and all - such as the character of a talking dog, Dug. But while the conceit itself is cartoonish, the execution is anything but: Dug is, I’m convinced, what a talking dog would be like in real life. The disembodied human voice (provided by the film’s co-director, Bob Peterson) matches perfectly with a dog’s endearing personality and makes for a particularly memorable character.

And it’s aspects like this, as well as the several moments that offer genuine and transcendent emotional resonance, that catapult Up far beyond the realm of mere cartoon.

Alongside the film’s swashbuckling aspects, and the moments of laughter and edification inevitable during the interaction of two characters with 70 years separating them, the film’s deepest and perhaps most difficult moments are about loss.

Take, for instance, the film’s first 10 minutes or so, which chronicles the lives of Carl and his bride, Ellie, with barely any dialogue to speak of. It manages to perfectly set the tone and forward motion of the film, while casting its shadow over the remaining hour and a half, and will stay with you long after you’ve left the theater. It could stand alone as an Oscar-worthy short.

So do not, by any means, be late to this film. In fact, there’s another good reason to get to your seat early: Up is accompanied by one of Pixar’s trademark short films, “Partly Cloudy,” a hilarious and touching segment that manages to explain both where babies come from and why it rains.

It’s peculiar how a film that’s so jaunty and fun doesn’t pull any punches emotionally. And it’s contradictions like this that not only separate Pixar’s oeuvre from that of other animation studios, but places it among the finest of contemporary filmmakers.


By Andrew Siddons [asiddons@gmail.com]


Up

Animated, Adventure / English

101 min.

Now playing


Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), right, and young explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) hike through the Amazon, floating house in tow, in Pixar’s “Up.” [Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar Animation Studios]




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