|Lacking in charm, humor, story, and most importantly, fun||0 out of 3 users found this review helpful.|
Up, from the widely acclaimed animation studio Pixar, comes with high expectations. After all, almost anything Pixar puts its name to turns to instant gold (see Toy Story, WALL-E, Monster's, Inc.) and even the flops (A Bug's Life, Ratatouille) at least have a certain likability that makes them enjoyable for children, and tolerable for adults. Typically this success comes from finding ways to entertain children while still giving their attendant adults something more sophisticated. Up, unfortunately, never finds its footing, and instead seems to have been developed straight from a checklist of components from previous successes.
There are several key parts to every Pixar film, and really, they even exemplify the reasons why Disney animated features tend to be so well recieved. Let's start with the story. Right away, Up is a confused mess of subplots that never really congeal into something tangible. The movie opens with a very meta, and very outdated, newsreel describing the exploits of a hero adventurer, who is then disgraced, and then leaves on a quest for redemption. Then one of the children at the newsreel runs off and bumps into another child, and they both discover they have a shared love for adventurers in newsreels. They have a few interactions and exchange an adventure scrap book.
Flash forward, and we are now following a young couple through all of life's stages. They court, get married, buy a house, fix the house up, have a miscarriage, get jobs, and grow old together. Towards the end of this montage, it is revealed that the second child from the beginning was a girl, which is the movies greatest surprise. However, this montage is truly the movie's finest moments. There is no speech, no text, and no pantomiming, and yet between the visuals, the emotive character faces, and the music, you are carried through the ups and downs of a life. In these 5 minutes the movie does what it fails to do for the entire rest of the runtime, and draws you in and makes you care. You understand the trials and tribulations, and have a vested interest in seeing them succeed.
From there, however, the movie moves to the husband, Carl, as a widower, holding out in his quiet house against both the evil nursing home and the evil developer. And this is where the movie gets completely lost. While the opening scenes merely fell flat, we are about to jump into a mess of confused, poorly explained, situations that are so overused they border on cliche. For example, Carl is a long holdout in his quaint house against a mega developer. Of course, the mega developer always wears a suit, a cellphone, and a vaguely asian expression that appears to suggest some sort of evil Japanese mega corporation. He does all the requisite evil things like having an entrouage, offering Carl double the value of his home, and calling the police when Carl splits open the skull of an idiot employee of his corporation. Then he disappears, forever.
This is a perfect example of why Up's story misses. Sure, there could be some interesting subtext of modernity vs. history, the callousness of modern comforts vs the comfort of old fashioned callousness, or even the inevitability of age. Instead, we are asked to feel anger towards the developer as he offers Carl extravagant fees for his home, which Carl rejects, and the developer respects. And we are again supposed to feel sorry for Carl after he, quite literally, splits open the head of a construction worker with his cane. This would be fine if perhaps Carl was portrayed as a feeble old man, but instead, we are supposed to feel bad that an rogue who stands up to anyone has to face the consequences of unprovoked battery. It doesn't really matter, however, as all of this is forgotten within 2 minutes.
So, the story isn't great, but there are other staples of Pixar animation to hang our hats on, right? Pixar is famous for cutting edge computer animation that is leaps and bounds above anything else on the market. Up, however, can't live up to the standard. In fact, the character animations are often stiff and robotic, harkening back to the days of the Toy Story, when Andy's occasional appearance broke the immersion. Also, we are never treated to a stunning vista of a wide, wonderful virtual world, most of the scenes are small, as though held on a movie set. There is some strength in the wonderful colors of the ballons that Carl floats his house with, but it isn't enough. There are a few examples of saliva coating various surfaces, and it is impressive, but it is so out of place each time it occurs you almost wonder if the artist in charge of it was set to retire, so they featured it a few times as a sending off swan song. Otherwise, we are treated to lots of greys and browns and generally uninspired visuals.
Most Pixar films at least have entertaining and funny scenes and dialogue that keep kids, and in the best ones, the adults too, engaged. Up does not follow in that trend. Most of the laughs are either too quick to be caught, too cliched to even be groan worthy, or overused to the point of annoyance. A good example comes from some talking dogs. While most of the dogs voices fit their personalities (the bulldog slobbers, the retreiver is doopey, the rotwiellier is decidely "street"), the Doberman is voiced by Alvin the Chipmunk. At first it is pretty funny, including when some of the other characters react to it, some just ignore it, but after a while it gets offensive. It can be hard to understand some of his lengthy speeches, and once you have heard it twice, the incongruence losses its effectiveness.
Otherwise, Carl repeats his crotchety old man lines as if he was in dire need of a paycheck, his boyscout friend is cluelessly optimistic for hours on end, and various characters give their touching, "Aha!" life lessons while they waggle an accusing finger at themselves for not getting it sooner. Part of the problem is that Up struggles to decide when it is going to add in some comic levity, when it is going to develop the story, and when it is going to offer philosophical life lessons. Just when you think you are going to enjoy some lighthearted action, there is a pause as a character makes a discovery, and then the movie goes back to exposition. Everytime you start to get behind it, it switches to something equally half-hearted just to keep you guessing.
The final piece of the Pixar puzzle is what makes me the most sad. Toy Story hit when I was just at the age to appreciate the technical wizardry of the graphics and to understand the adult themes about growing up, but still young enough to laugh at the slapstick antics and play with the toys. Since then, I have always had a very special place in my movie watching heart for Pixar films. Part of my personal enjoyment has always been the way they manage to great exciting, imaginative stories that are tied just closely enough to relaity to be fully believable. While I don't for a second think Buzz Lightyear's wings actually support the aerodyanmics of flight, I do enjoy wondering if perhaps the toys on my desk do come alive when I leave, and if so, imagine that they would slide down the bannister and hang from the window blinds. Up, however, completely throws all of this out the window. A house floats with the aid of circus ballons, which is ridiculous, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief. When the shower curtain rudders make it capable of dogfighting, I just sighed and shook my head. When the dogs have collars that translate their thoughts into speech, I accepted it, and enjoyed the personality it gave the film. Even better, when the dogs attempt to serve wine at dinner, they commically spill it (they don't have hands, remember) and then lap it up from the floor. Its funny and cute. 5 minutes later, however, they pilot fighter jets. Not funny, and not cute. The magic is lost.
Up is a movie that tries to do everything right, and in the end gets just about everything wrong. Not only can it not decide if it is a lighthearted romp or a serious commentary, it falls short on the humor and animation as well. It also fails to create any character that the audience will want to connect with after. Carl is a crotchety old man, the boy scout is annoying and wierd, the dogs are too interchangeable, and even the dinosaur bird creature is too passing a character to want to see again. This is certainly the least marketable Pixar film in ages, and that isn't because it stay true to itself while avoiding rampart commercialism, it is because it fails to connect. And speaking of the ending, I won't spoil anything, but I will say it ties up nicely in a way that is sure to be palatable for children, but disappointing for adults. It all depends on your age. It isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I don't think its a good thing either.
All in all, Up is disappointing on a variety of fronts. The story is disjointed and crowded with subplots, the animation is only average, and the traditional Pixar charm and wit fails to impress. Adults will find strings of substance and thrill that dissapate as soon as you touch them. Children will likely find the colorful characters and occassional silliness entertaining, but even they will wonder what happens to certain characters or why they do the things they do. For a title with tons of promise and potential, Up is a huge disappointment.
It's a Thanksgiving entry for one of Pixar's bittersweet masterpieces. SQUIRREL! (Spoiler video!)
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