Friday, June 26, 2009

Almost Grown Up [A Movie Review]

Opened May 29th 2009
Directed by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Written by Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson, additional story by Thomas McCarthy. 

Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) as he tries to fulfill a lifelong promise to his late wife. Along the way, Carl is forced to associate with a parade of tag-alongs, among them a talkative, energetic boy scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai), a dim companion named Dug (Bob Peterson), and a wild bird dubbed Kevin. Carl struggles to make good on his word while the others do what can't honestly be called help until unforeseen complications throw a wrench in the works. 

The film, though admittedly from a company that has shown tremendous warmth in the past, is surprisingly tender in its subject matter. Older viewers can expect a film that will be emotionally engaging, perhaps much more for themselves than for their children who's typical sort-range empathy might not grasp the scope of Carl's situation. The film's strength lies in this and combined with the film's sincere and well defined characters it's enough to keep audiences firmly engaged, and thankfully so. In creating something so earnest Pixar separated themselves significantly from what brought them so much success: Humor. 

Up is never choked by false or over-done sentiment, and it's often amusing but the amount of actual laugh-worthy jokes could be counted on one's hands. This isn't in itself a problem if that's not the overall goal, but Up is labeled a comedy. Its occasionally stale jokes, or silly concepts have the ability to amuse very young audiences, likely the under 10 (perhaps even younger) crowd, but few outside the demographic. This is partially the material's fault, and partially that the tone of the film doesn't allow for the more absurd ideas to work. Adults simply just shouldn't walk into the film expecting to yuck it up. This movie isn't Toy Story with its over-young-heads  jokes, or The Incredibles with its welcome eccentricities. Up, ironically enough, is more grounded in realism than Pixar's other work and for this reason much of the stuff thats been around the merry-go-round isn't working for it. Regardless, the movie still has a handful of great comedic moments, but many (as often is the case) have been spoiled by the trailers. 

What can be said for the humor case also be said for the film's logical troubles. The film requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief for older audiences- much more than should be, even for animation. Carl's mode of transportation might raise some eyebrows, but it's otherwise something that doesn't even need to be forgiven. Most of these problems stem from the film's antagonist and his situation. Again, it also becomes an issue of tone and appropriateness. For young audiences, and complacent old ones however, this is a complete non-issue. 

Up is the sort of film that screenwriting professors can scream about, for good or for bad. Like most Pixar films, it follows the standard three-act structure to the letter. What can be dubbed the "Angry Pixar Character Scene" can be found in this film, much as it can in the films that came before it (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, etc) to the point that an astute viewer can now feel the shift in the wind earlier than they should. On the good side of things however, the plot points fold into each other rather nicely. More importantly, the characters are sturdy and within the first fifteen minutes the film has managed to make the audience care about their well-being. Don't be surprised if more than once you end up reassuring yourself that "everything will be okay, this is a Pixar film." 

Up is a film that demonstrates what a more adult Pixar is capable of, though it has tonal issues itself. It's warm without being sentimental, and though it falls into the trap of several Pixar conventions, the intricacy of the plot points is impressive. Visually attractive and rewarding, Up manages to meet high expectations and provide proof of what pixar could be with some lofty ambition. 


PS. This review is messy, and scattered. Sorry. It may also be the first of weekly movie reviews for the length of the summer. 


CC44 said...

I think my only point of order is the number of laughs the movie has... I found it consistently funny, truly funny, from the moment little Carl fell through the plank in the attic of the house, up until the end.

I agree, it falls into the Pixar convention, but I also don't mind that in the least. I think you raise an excellent point (much like I did in my blog) that it's an example of where Pixar could go if they keep letting their ambitions fly.

Joe said...

You found it funny? Hm. I was in a theater with about 8 people, half of them kids and the only people who laughed were the adults, and like I mentioned, at only a handful of moments.

Kiriska said...

Hmm, I also found Up funny, though it was mostly silly humor rather than smart humor. I did also find a lot of logic gaps annoying with the antagonist, but as that was only the top layer on a much more meaningful struggle, I wasn't too bothered. The character development and discovery in Up made up for anything lacking elsewhere. In that sense, I think Up did a great job in balancing kid entertainment with adult themes. I also applaud Pixar for making a thoroughly successful protagonist out of an old man -- it isn't something you see often in either animation or live action films.

Joe said...

In regard to old men protagonists: The average age for a working member of the screen writers guild is about 35. By 60 most writers have difficulty getting their work picked up. I'd wager that's the biggest reason why you don't see old protagonists.

That, and there is always a risk of them dying mid-shoot.