AAR at the Movies: Up

pixar-up-frame1The NYT used to be my go-to site for movie reviews, but of late I find myself bored with their determined cynicism.  However, I do have to agree with Manohla Dargis’s summary of Pixar’s latest creation: Though the initial images of flight are wonderfully rendered…the movie remains bound by convention….This has become the Pixar way. Passages of glorious imagination are invariably matched by stock characters and banal story choices, as each new movie becomes another manifestation of the movie-industry divide between art and the bottom line.  Well, I’m not sure I’d totally agree with the last assertion, but I do know that the movie left me flat after a glorious beginning.

What I liked: A 78-year-old main character, Carl Frederickson, voiced by Ed Asner.  A house propelled by thousands of helium balloons.  Evocative music scored by Michael Giacchino, who also did the wonderful “Ratatouille”.  The bird.

What I really liked: A beautiful, poignant beginning, showing Carl’s life with his beloved wife Ellie.  The opening newsreel, which brought to mind nice memories of “The Incredibles”.  The phenomenal colour palette.

What I didn’t like so much: The opening short (“Partly Cloudy”), which was very underwhelming.  A descent to rather tedious action once they reach Paradise Falls and an underdeveloped villain.

What I really didn’t like.  Charles Muntz’s dogs with electronic collars that give them human voices.  Very, very tedious.

I have to keep reminding myself that although Pixar films work for both adults and children, they are aimed first and foremost towards the latter.  That being said, I firmly believe it is possible to craft meaningful, original, thought-provoking children’s films that are consistent in tone as “Up” was not (see Brad Bird’s “The Iron Giant”, Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away”, or Michel Ocelet’s “Azur & Asmar: The Prince’s Quest”).  Lately, Pixar’s films have started on very high notes but left me feeling flat, and the knowledge that their next few projects include a “Cars” sequel leaves me quavering.

But then again, it’s their fault for setting such high standards.  Compared to the vast majority of animated films, not to mention films, “Up” is a bloody good movie.   I saw this in our local theatre (it just arrived) with a 5-year-old kid and her mum, and young Jenna was so into the movie it was as entertaining as the movie itself.  Maybe that’s the key.  Forget that I know any better, and just go with it.

– Jean AAR

22 thoughts on “AAR at the Movies: Up

  1. Lynn M

    Wow. Couldn’t disagree with you more. I thought the talking dog collars were hysterical. Do you have a dog? I’m thinking you don’t, because part of the humor of that whole premise was how accurately I felt the writers captured what my family always thinks our dog must be thinking when she gives us her various looks.

    In addition to the character of Carl, I also loved the younger Russell. The contrast between Carl’s pessimism and Russell’s eternal optimism was a delight.

    I do agree with you about the villain being undeveloped, kind of like they needed a Bad Guy so they called up central casting and got a stock mustache-twirler. But this didn’t detract from the story enough for me to be bothered by it.

    In the end, different strokes for different folks, I guess. Thank goodness there are so many great movies out there for everyone to enjoy.

  2. Ellen AAR

    I haven’t seen Up yet, but I have my name on the DVD as soon as we get it. I really, really want a sequel to The Incredibles.

  3. maggie b.

    This was actually my favorite movie of the summer. I found it poignant, touching, beautiful and achingly sweet. I loved the beginning with him meeting his wife but also the ending credits where he develops a new life with Russell and the dog were wonderful. I saw it three times at the theater — the third time the movie was actually filled with adults, many of them over 50 and they seemed to love the film more even than the handful of kids who watched it.

    I am really looking forward to owning it. We own (and love) all the Pixar films with the exception of “Bugs Life”. I just pretend that one didn’t happen.

  4. Jean Wan

    @LynnM – Don’t have a dog, although have lived with them. The only part that seemed to work for me was “Squirrel!” Which was hilarious. My main problem with the dogs is I couldn’t hear most of what they were saying because the distortion threw everything off, but as a humour device it just seemed, well, WRONG, and I didn’t like some of the voices used. Re: Russell – meh. Not bad, but not great. As you say though: Thank goodness there are enough movies around for all of us!

    @Ellen AAR – I’ll probably get the DVD when it comes out, if only to see if the talking dog collars work better. And Incredibles sequel definitely.

  5. AnimeGirl


    I really like most of Pixar’s movies (except for Monsters, which to me was only OK, and Cars which I haven’t seen) and I loved Up, I cried and went to see it twice, But then, I love dogs, I loved Russel and Kevin and Doug.

    Then again, I didn’t see the movie in English but in Spanish, and frankly we rock when it comes to dubbing here in Mexico, so maybe that’s part of why I found it funny and moving.

    Totally agree about Spirited Away and The Iron Giant. The Iron Giant kept my faith in US animation when Traditional Disney was vent on destroying it.

  6. Kathy

    @Jean AAR – Although you are one of the very few (OK. the only) person I’ve heard (besides Manoha and some of the other critics) to NOT like UP, I’m glad that you enjoyed the beginning. It made me cry, but I tear up over lots of things…

    In the giant commercial challenge of appealing to the masses, Pixar has walked on both sides of the success/failure line. Up was a success IMHO, and had something for everyone in it (at least everyone in my large family!). Compared to most of the fare that is offered up these days, I’ll take Pixar’s productions – they seem to hit more than they miss!

  7. Jean AAR Post author

    I’m not sure I disagree with what y’all are saying. My head tells me I must be crazy to be so nitpicky about a movie that, realistically, is very good. But I found it so, well, ORDINARY. If “Up” had been made by your regualar Joe Schmoe Productions I’d say, “Wonderful beginning, unexceptional 2nd half, keep working on it guys!” (and @Kathy – you can bet your bananas I cried too). But this is PIXAR! They made Wall-E, whose first 40 minutes were about as sublime a piece of film-making I’ve ever seen! And no one even TALKS! They scripted Ratatouille (which I thought was amazing)!! And they made Finding Nemo, which was genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny!!!

    In short, they can do better. But like I said, “Up” IS a good movie. And it IS better than 90% of most movies currently made. And it is unquestionably, despite all its faults, above average.

    But still.

    @AnimeGirl – Iron Giant made me cry buckets. I love it. Vin Diesel as the Iron Giant? Awesome.

  8. Lee

    I just wanted to add my thoughts here. I loved this movie. And I took my 8 y.o. daughter and her friend, and my 2 y.o. My 14 y.o sat in the back of the theater with 3 of his friends. The audience was a mixture of ages. In my group, everyone but the 2 y.o. was wiping back tears during that opening montage (yes, even the teen boys, my son later admitted to me). Thinking I was overemotional, I looked around the theater and there was not a dry eye in the house. And I bet the lump in my throat at the end wasn’t the only one either. Such a sweet movie.

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