Film Break: “Up”

PIXAR UP

Pixar’s tenth film, Up, opens in the same way as its sixth film, The Incredibles: With black-and-white newsreel footage, establishing the context, the prologue, as it were. But this is not The Incredibles. Almost as soon as the newsreel footage begins, the viewer will also notice a distinctly cartoonish visual style, not at all unlike Monsters, Inc.; later on, the film employs zany action-adventure set pieces that bear fleeting resemblance to the great chase scene that serves as Monsters‘ climax. There’s a sense of wonder in everyday thing– in this case, an old house and a giant bouquet of balloons– that recalls Toy Story; vast, colorful landscapes that capture the same sense of awe felt in Finding Nemo‘s ocean vistas; and, perhaps most crucially, an entirely wordless montage of incredible visual nuance and emotional depth, similar in a great many ways to the first half hour of Wall*E.

But Up, though it is many things, is not Pixar-by-the-numbers, nor is it a film built from spare parts; rather, is is a film quite unlike any other that Pixar has ever made. In fact, it’s unlike any other film, period. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon cum B-movie adventure, a buddy movie that spans generations and continents, and a film about love and marriage, death and grief, growing old and savoring the taste of life and of adventure.

I shan’t comment on the plot, or even on the film’s central metaphors; you already know about some of these from the trailers, and really, the less you know about them the better. What I will say is that Pixar seems only to grow increasingly confident in making increasingly sophisticated films. This is a cartoon for grown-ups to enjoy just as much as their children, if not more, and, it’s as unconventional a summer blockbuster as any since, well, Wall*E— I mean good grief, the lead character is eighty years old! And speaking of Wall*E, this film is not nearly as vast or ambitious as that one, at least not in terms of pure scale, nor should it be; this is a smaller story, and at times it’s as intimate as that film was epic. And yet, there are scenes of such oddball adventure, surreal fantasy, and goofy humor that the film is as elusive as any in the Pixar canon, always defying easy categorization.

And yet, the Pixar movie it most reminds me of, I think, is Brad Bird’s beautiful, unforgettable Ratatouille. Like that movie, Up is a small and wondrous story, a miracle of a movie that is destined to be not simply liked, but cherished and treasured by many. Personally: It damn near brought me to tears on a couple of instances, with its depictions of lifelong, marital love that are as pure and as sweet and as real as in any film that I’ve seen. You’ll notice that I’ve barely mentioned the balloons. That’s because it’s as much about balloons as Ratatouille is food. It’s a story that goes deeper down than most live-action filmmakers dare to dig, ad as such, it soars higher than most filmmakers could even imagine.

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