Movie Review: Up

I have yet to see a Pixar movie I didn’t like, but not all of them have me laughing out loud throughout. “Up” accomplished this, along with more than one or two moments of genuine emotion.

“Up” seems ultimately to be a movie about dreams. Whether one is old or young, dreams are a key running thread through our lives. How we deal with those dreams very often defines our lives. Carl dreamed of adventure. And then he dreamed of Ellie, who satisfied his need for adventure, and in a very real sense, became his dream that was beautifully fulfilled. Upon her passing, that dream ended though, and Carl was in search for another. He takes up Ellie’s childhood dream of adventure, and launches a fantastic and improbably adventure to South America. Russel dreams of having a father who is present in his life and loves him, and seeks to accomplish this by earning all of his merit badges in order to become a Senior Wilderness Scout, thereby receiving an awards ceremony that his father promised to attend. His determination to earn his final badge through helping Carl lands him in a larger adventure than he ever would have dreamed. Along the way, Carl and Russel (to a lesser extent) are forced to come to grips with their dreams. To determine whether those dreams are worth holding on to if they require them to sacrifice the present. They meet others along the way who have had dreams as well – and sometimes those dreams have taken them into dark places through unnatural ends. The dreams in this film are metaphorically born by the characters in very physical ways. The paradox of heavy floating things seems oddly perfect, and it permeates the film. Even Russel carries his dream on his chest.

Sounds pretty heavy, doesn’t it? And yet it was interspersed with genuinely funny moments. Some outlandish and slapstickish. Others dead on in their cultural references. Russel is cute in a genuine way often lacking from other child actors of flesh and blood. Carl is believably curmudgeonly, and we are lead along the fine line of genuine concern for him, while recognizing that he has some serious growing up of his own to do. Kevin and Doug are pure comic enjoyment, each with dreams of their own that they seek in their own ways to fulfill. They make us laugh along with them in the tradition of other comedians. Harpo Marx comes to mind for Kevin (don’t ask me why!).

But I wasn’t the only one who laughed through the film. My children (ages 3 through 7) also laughed and were absorbed throughout. Despite the dearth of insipid dialog or forgettable pop music marketing tie-ins. Despite the extremely blocky and exaggerated animation style, and despite some of the very grown-up themes. Children dream as well, and if they lack the perspective of some of us who have lived long enough to have had dreams come true as well as lost, well, perhaps we underestimate the hearts of children and their capacity for bruises and disappointments, no matter how trivial we might think them.

The emotions in this movie are real and presented in full. This means at times there is sorrow and fear as well as joy and levity. Nothing that will scar a child or bore an adult, though. Yes, the movie is not an effort at realism in terms of basic plot mechanisms. But in spite of the unlikely and sometimes fantastical events of the film, the characters are real. They’re recognizable. They ring true to the people and events in our own lives, however mundane those situations might be in comparison. And the emotional baggage that is ported throughout the film is genuine.

Go and see this movie. If you know Pixar, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re not familiar with their work, this is a great – though in some ways unconventionally so. This movie continues the techniques that Pixar started working out in Wall-E, and have utilized in almost every one of their short features – stories without excessive dialog.

2 Responses to “Movie Review: Up”

  1. Nancy Campbell Says:

    I nearly died from weeping in the first ten minutes.

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    Amazing how poignant some bizarrely shaped, mostly-mute animated characters can be, isn’t it?

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