Pixar, how I love you. If Up isn’t the film of the year so far, it’s pretty damn close. Don’t let the fact it’s a far more conventional film than Wall-E fool you – it is just as emotionally honest (it is odd how true to human feelings Pixar can be while running with more outlandish ideas). Pixar have always dealt with real experiences through metaphor – from the fear of middle-age in The Incredibles to the concerned single-parenthood of Finding Nemo – but this movie is particularly upfront about what it’s dealing with. That honesty is almost as endearing as the magical imagination which elevates the film like so many helium-filled balloons.
Of course, old age is the central and most obvious theme of the movie: how we treat our elderly and how scary the real world can be to deal with. There’s a stunning sequence early on where the hero of the piece, Carl Frederickson, gets into a misunderstanding over the old mailbox outside his house – one of the few relics of his happily married life which remains in the twilight of his years. He runs as fast as he can back to the house, boards himself in, pulls the curtains and peers – terrified – through the gap, waiting for the outside world to come after him. It’s a small sequence, but an effective ones. The small sequences generally are.
The movie contains one of the most effective portrayals of a lifelong romance which I have seen in… well, quite some time. A short prologue introduces us to Carl and his first encounter with Ellie in a sweet and amusing manner, but it’s followed by a five-minute montage which follows the increasingly ageing couple, their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations. There’s humour here, but also tragedy. There are hints as to why the couple remained childless. They increasingly put their trip to paradise falls on hold, as little things pop up that keep them digging into their humble savings. Eventually it ends, as it must, with Carl alone with only memories (and a faint remembrance of a dream) to sustain him.
As much as the movie is about old age, it is also a warning about wasting a life chasing dreams at the expense of all else. Several times Carl flicks through his deceased wife’s adventure scrapbook, but he always stops at the page labelled “Stuff I Want To Do” – worried at how empty the pages will be. There’s a reason that the tagline of the movie is ‘memories will weigh you do’ and that Carl himself spends most of the movie tied to a house filled with keepsakes of his memories of Ellie. His idol, the explorer Charles Muntz, is equally weighed down by the past – driven crazy by the mockery of experts half a century earlier. Muntz has his own museum (or mausoleum) to his early exploits which forms a distorted parallel to Frederickson’s perfectly maintained house. It’s a lovely irony that both of these memorials are capable of flight despite weighing down their owners. The film suggests that these memories and dreams will eventually be destroyed (even by ourselves in pursuing it) – but if we cast them out ourselves they may make us free.
The film includes any number of visual and thematic references to cinematic classics – Star Wars, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Wizard of Oz spring to mind. There’s also – as one would expect from Pixar – a wealth of warm humour in proceedings. There are any number of absolutely hilarious gags, including one of the best depictions of what an old age sword-fight would actually look like.
It’s a Pixar film, so technical brilliance is expected. The film looks incredible. I’m not sure it is as visually stunning as its direct predecessor, or even Finding Nemo, but it is still a Pixar film. The CGI rendering looks incredible. The 3D – as with their rerelease of Toy Story – isn’t meant to be intrusive or flashy, instead it is imersive, giving depth to the imagery. There’s a stunningly beautiful moment in the film where Carl is pulling the house on his back against a red sunset on a rockface. He is silhouetted against that sunset, and the audience can actually determine depth in the imagery. It’s stunning. The magical mystical world of South America (“It’s like America… but South!”) is beautifully realised, and I’m surprised the film spends its time on a rockface rather than a jungle, but it looks no worse for it. Maybe the imagery is meant to reflect our protagonists – rugged and weathered.
It is easily one of the best movies of the past year. It’s yet another truly brilliant example of what Pixar are capable of and a reminder of why we spend so much time anticipating their annual release.
Up is the latest cinematic release from Pixar, starring Ed Asner (Batman: The Animated Series, Freakazoid) and Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). It was released in the United States on 29th May 2009, but we had to wait until 9th October 2009 to see in in Ireland and the United Kingdom.