Friday, April 13, 2012
Up, which sports one of the simplest and uninformative titles, may well be the best movie of the year. It is cringeworthy to hear it unfairly dismissed as a "kids'" matinee. If you are twenty-five, childless, and planning to rent the latest emo-flavored slasher flick, please, do not deny yourself this film. The people who you sit with are likely to be too involved to judge you anyway. This transcends the family genre, period.
Many children's movies, even ludicrous ones, toy with relevant emotion, but none since Up have used it so beautifully. This is a film with talking dogs and giant rainbow birds, where the laws of gravity do not apply, and not a minute of it seems artificial. And it's funny, Abundant in visual humor (Kevin the bird's mannerisms are enough to inspire chuckles), it rises far beyond average "funny" films that spend one hour thirty minutes trying to find the right note.
Carl, one of Up's leads, isn't one of the typical animation characters. He is old, for one thing, albeit with a sequence as a younger person. He's cranky and not a fan of children. His dialogue contains little sarcasm, and he is behind the times -- sounds of computer ads on his television seem oddly out of sync with the quiet conventionality of his home.
Carl's life long love interest follows the Disney rule, where the spunky female friend becomes a romantic figure later in life. This is Ellie, who shares an interest in Charles Muntz, the explorer they follow at the theater. Carl and Ellie fancy themselves future explorers but are now stuck in the typical rounds of childhood, the only adventure coming from imaginary play.
Carl is silent, which suits Ellie fine, as it gives her the time to talk enough for the both of them. Charles Muntz, it seems, has been discredited for a bird skeleton he collected on an island. Denounced as a fake, he promises to bring the bird back. Ellie and Carl swear to go to Paradise Falls, where Muntz resides. They keep their dream, but after marriage, life gets in the way.
Ten minutes take the couple from early childhood to elderly life, where they live a pleasant but unremarkable existence. Though neither regrets their marriage, their dreams go away and neither feels completely fulfilled. When Ellie dies, in a quiet scene, which is sad but sparing, Carl seems about done with his life.
When he injures a overeager construction worker, he is forced into retirement. This is when the title comes into play. Being a former balloon salesman, he attaches hundreds of balloons to his and Ellie's house and sets out for nowhere in particular (hopefully Paradise Falls). Good movie luck sends him in the right direction, aided by an appliance he uses to steer. Bad movie luck brings Russell, a talkative boy scout who gets stuck on the porch.
The rest of the film take place almost entirely at Paradise Falls, a brightly colored, exotic island. There they meet Kevin, a gigantic bird who likes chocolate, and Dug, a dim-witted retriever who, despite a voice collar Charles Muntz has installed which gives him the voice of Bob Peterson, never loses his doggishness. Finally they meet Charles Muntz, who has not become nice in his old age, and hasn't taken his years-old rejection gladly.
In more than five instances of seeing this film, I never once sighed at the messages - objects do not replace people and friendship is meaningful. It didn't seem *Disney*. It seemed real. This is boosted by likable voice performances, especially especially Bob Peterson, who plays the dog, and Jordan Nagai, as Russell, who is an unknown young actor but still very good.
Some of Up's thematic material may be too much for sensitive children. However, I don't consider it to nearly qualify as a "dark" or "depressing" film. Though it has its moments, most of which will affect parents more than kids, it has been a long time since I saw a happy ending that felt so earned (Rated PG.)