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Pixar is up to its old tricks, with added soul, in Up

Scene from the Pixar film Up

Up movie review

– by Adrian Mack

Some Pixar movies are stone great (Toy Story), some feel like technically amazing conditioning exercises (Cars, WALL*E), and others fall in between (Monsters Inc). Up is stone great. Like WALL*E, you feel like a valid new archetype is being hatched before your eyes, but without the queasy play to current headlines and apocalyptic fears. It feels deeper for that reason, more lasting.

Also, like WALL*E, Pixar’s newest feature unwinds at a relatively relaxed pace, meaning that my daughter got a little restless. But Dad sobbed on three separate occasions, first and foremost after a stunning and totally heartbreaking montage telescoping over 70 years of the main character’s life. It’s bravura cinema, and outrageously moving (although I’ll happily fess up that I cry like a little girl at the drop of a hat, depending on the quality of the hat. I’ll reliably weep whenever I hear “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, for instance. Up is a very, very good hat).

The story – Karl Frederickson is a childless, 78-year old balloon salesman who attaches 10,000 balloons to his old house and sails off into the sky, headed for Paradise Falls in South America. It’s the one dream, besides producing offspring, that Frederickson and his late wife Ellie left unfulfilled. To his dismay, Frederickson finds himself accompanied by a fat little stowaway called Russell (Pixar creates kids who are cute without being cloying), and eventually a rare giant bird they dub Kevin, a pack of talking dogs, and a legendary Lindberghesque explorer called Muntz who turns out, like Lindbergh, to be a completely evil motherfucker.

The last 15 minutes of Up takes place in the sky, as Frederickson, Russell, and a dog named Dug leap, fall, or are dragged back and forth between the house and Muntz’s luxury dirigible (a cross between the Titanic, the Hindenburg, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London). These scenes are insanely stressful, thanks to the film’s typically gorgeous and thoughtful rendering.

In general, Up is given the wool-and-felt feel of an old Rankin-Bass stop-motion feature. It’s a strong nostalgia trigger, and a mind-trick, but there’s a soulfulness to it. Same goes for the humanism at the heart of Upit’s counterfeit, by virtue of the fact that I’m watching hugely expensive and test-marketed Hollywood product – but holy fuck does it ever work.

Meanwhile, building the film around a geriatric character is bold and admirable. Getting Ed Asner to voice it is genius. And there’s genius in the subtlety of some of the humour – when we first meet the vicious and terrifying pack leader Alpha, his electronic voice box is on the fritz, and he sounds like a chipmunk. Even in its silliest, most-throwaway moments, Pixar is inspired. Contrast this with Dreamworks product, which is all throwaway, and never inspired.

Up made me happy – but judging by the trailers that preceded it, for Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts, something called Aliens in the Attic (the phrase “mind control” is prominent in the ads), and another animated psy-op called Planet 51, my anger level should be a health hazard again by autumn.

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