movie film review | chris tookey


© Pixar/ Walt Disney Pictures - all rights reserved
  Up Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
8.47 /10
Voices: Ed Asner , Christopher Plummer, John Ratzenberger
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Directed by: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
Written by: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson

Released: 2009
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 102

Creative, strange and wonderful.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Pixar’s tenth film is one of the most uplifting ever made. It’s an instant classic and one of those rare movies which will appeal to all ages and intellects. It has heart and intelligence, beauty and excitement, plus loads and loads of imagination.

Pixar has already given us some of the best animated films of all time, in the form of The Incredibles, Toy Story and Ratatouille. This is on that same exalted level, and it has such originality and so infectious a sense of fun – not to mention some extremely good jokes - that it will bear re-seeing many times.

It’s the first Pixar film to have been made in 3D, and that adds something to the experience, with its dizzying heights and balloons so plump you feel you can reach out and pop them, but it’s the quality of the storytelling that makes it a masterpiece. It would be just as unmissable on a small, black and white TV.

I don’t have any serious criticisms of it as art or entertainment, so consider this an appreciation instead.

It’s the tale of Carl Frederickson (brilliantly voiced by Ed Asner), a grumpy septuagenarian who once dreamed of being an explorer – as did his beloved wife Ellie. Together, they saved up to follow in the footsteps of Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and visit Paradise Falls in South America, home to a lost world of curious creatures.

But everyday considerations – such as burst tyres and a leaking roof – meant they never followed their dream, and their marriage, though loving, was childless. All this is told in a marvellous montage, as perfect as any the cinema has produced. It’s a throwback to the heart-rending emotionalism of the great silent movies, and beautifully scored by Michael Giacchino.

After Ellie’s death, Carl decides to escape the developers who are building all round his house by attaching helium balloons to it, and floating off to Venezuela. He accomplishes lift-off with surprising ease, but is annoyed to find himself accompanied by a spherical eight year-old Asian-American called Russell (Jordan Nagal) who is determined to get his last scouting badge by “assisting the elderly”, even if Carl patently doesn’t wish to be assisted.

I won’t tell you any of their adventures, except to say they involve a pack of talking dogs and a large, multi-coloured bird called Kevin. The story becomes extraordinarily bizarre and whimsical, but writer-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson somehow keep us amused, excited and aware that there is an underlying point.

For Russell needs a father-figure in his life, and Carl has to learn that parenthood – or, in his case, surrogate grandparenthood - is, in some ways, the ultimate adventure, even if the kid is Asian-American. It’s Gran Torino with balloons.

Up also has an interesting take on the old Hollywood cliche “Follow your dream”. This movie points out that following your dream may take you to a very unexpected reality. Childhood heroes may end up disappointing you. And in order to achieve your full potential you may have to let go of one dream and follow another, which you might previous have dismissed as too prosaic. It’s a not dissimilar message to another movie classic, It’s A Wonderful Life.

This is not a finger-wagging, moralistic film, but it’s firmly on the side of conservation, family life and responsible dog ownership, all of which are fine by me.

It wears its profundity lightly and makes all its points with great economym. Would that all Oscar contenders were like this.

Children will enjoy the film, but I’d advise parents to see it with them (don’t worry – it’s no chore). It raises questions about childlessness and mortality which some may find disturbing, especially if they’re clever and/or sensitive. This is not a criticism of the movie – more a sign that some of it, especially the opening montage, may involve children more deeply than the average family film.

Grown-ups may enjoy spotting references to The Lost World, The Wizard of Oz , Howl’s Moving Castle and even Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. The wonderful use of dogs as both threatening characters and light relief evokes fond memories of the Disney masterpiece Lady and the Tramp.

It’s easy to see that Carl Frederick’s square, irascible face was inspired by Spencer Tracy, and the dashing but unreliable Muntz has more than a look of Kirk Douglas.

But Up is much more than the sum of its cinematic influences. I especially admired the way it marries the workaday – such as financial worries, creaking, elderly bones and the need of small children to go to the lavatory at inopportune moments – to the most outlandish flights of imagination and adventure.

There are things the characters get up to in the action climax that would have even Indiana Jones scratching his head and taking early retirement.

One minor quibble is that the chronology doesn’t make sense, unless Muntz has somehow located a fountain of eternal youth. Another is that the film rarely obeys the laws of physics. But, to be quite honest, I didn’t care.

That’s mainly because, along with its other virtues, Up is funny. I especially liked the way the characters got out of scrapes by using their knowledge that dogs like chasing balls and are easily distracted by squirrels.

There are moments when even a notorious curmudgeon such as myself has to throw up his hands and admit that he was entertained and delighted. Family films as stunning as this don’t come a
long more than once or twice a decade. You should see it.

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