Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Review: Up

I look forward to Pixar's annual releases primarily for three reasons:

1. The Pixar short movie before the feature
2. Since I don't watch many other CG films, I get to see what one year's worth of technological advancements amount to.
3. They are always phenomenal (see WALL-E, the Incredibles, Finding Nemo, etc.)

Let's tackle these points in order. The short film, "Partly Cloudy," is a tale about big friendly clouds who mold and create babies for the storks to take to parents. The problem with our hero is that he is a rain cloud who makes toddlers that other people might not love as much as him (alligator, hedgehog, electric eel). We feel bad for his stork messenger buddy who takes a beating trying to deliver these beasts. And just when you think the stork is about to give up on the big storm cloud, he surprises you and everyone wins. Two thumbs up. I don't think they've ever made a stinky short, though.

Next, how does Up look? In years past, Pixar movies ambitiously tackle sprawling, unique landscapes (ocean, outer space, jungles) as well as little hiccups (hair, clothes, water). This year, although it looks fantastic, I'm not sure they did anything groundbreaking. It came close with a pretty sweet looking thunderstorm, but the rest of the surroundings are things you've probably seen before. I get the sense that they used their resources more towards adapting it for 3D screens (I saw it in 2D). Nonetheless, it looks great.

Finally the plot. I've heard reviews that say that the first 10 minutes will leave you in tears, and they aren't far off. I didn't cry, nor did I notice people around me in the theaters crying, but I heard a lot of sad "awwwwws." Instead of a shocking twist like Bambi's mother getting shot, the prologue is more justa quick tale (with no dialogue) about two people with a love for each other and for adventure, but life's problems keep getting in the way.

That sets us up for the main story. Old man Carl is lonely, crotchety curmudgeon about to be thrown in a retirement home, so he decides to take the trip he never had time for in the past. With the help of a ton of ballons, he takes off into the skies and heads for South America. Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for us, the fat little boy scout was on the porch during take-off, hoping to earn his final badge for assisting the elderly. No matter what else is happening in the movie (yep, there is a villain, some henchmen, and some more sidekicks), the best part is the interaction between Carl and the fat kid. The second best part of the movie is one of their sidekicks, Dug, the talking dog. His lovable mentality was summed up pretty good in the previews when he meets Carl: "My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you!"

So what are the drawbacks? Like I said before, the visuals are nothing groundbreaking, but that's not much a knock against the film. My big problem was that some parts of the film were just too silly. I can handle a floating house, a 70 year old protagonist battling a 90 year old antagonist, and all the talking dogs. But dogs flying airplanes?!?!? Is this Dreamworks all of a sudden?!? Finally, the music is pretty stinky. Michael Giacchino scored the movie, and even though he dominates music on LOST, it was forgettable in Up just like when he did Ratatouille. I wish they could get the guy that did Nemo and WALL-E to score the movie every year (he also did the awesome Shawshank Redemption music).

That leaves us with a film that has wonderfully heartfelt bookends, and the meat of the story is whimsical adventure. It doesn't compare to some of the elite Pixar movies, but it's certainly better than Ratatouille, Cars, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2.


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