Monday, June 1, 2009

And Away

Words like "wonderful" and "exhilarating" and "genius" get thrown around so much that they lose at least some of their impact, if not all meaning. Know when you read the next sentence that I don't use those words lightly.

Up is a wonderful and exhilarating work of genius. It's as close to perfection as you can get. In fact, there just aren't many movies made in this century old medium that are better than Up. Up is not a kids movie. Hannah Montana and Night At The Museum are kids movies. They're the movies that Mom and Dad really don't want to see but end up seeing anyway because their kids nag the ever loving crap out of them until they relent and end up watching Miley Cyrus sing forgettable country/pop songs for 90 minutes. Up, on the other hand, is the definition of a family film. It's blend of action, humor, magic, wonder and touching humanity can be enjoyed by parents, kids, and everyone else*.

The movie opens with two kids named Carl and Ellie who dream childhood dreams of exploring the world and having grand adventures exploring places like the remote Paradise Falls in South America. As they grow up and fall in love, their adventure comes in the form of their marriage to each other that turns bittersweet when they discover that they can't have children. They move on though and their marriage lasts for decades until Ellie succumbs first to old age, leaving Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) assuming that he will simply live out the rest of his days alone and bitter in the house he shared with Ellie. There are two forces that will prove Carl wrong though. One is a developer who wants to build a high rise on Carl's property. The other is an annoying kid named Russell.

The developer seizes an opportunity to have Carl committed to an old folks but Carl gets the last laugh. As a former balloon salesman, he had loads of balloons and helium in his home so filled up the balloons, tied them to his house and simply floated away. His destination? Paradise Falls, the place where much younger versions of Carl and Ellie once dreamt of exploring. Other than the fact that this almost certainly wouldn't be possible, what could possibly go wrong? I did mention an annoying kid named Russell, right?

Russell is a member of the Wilderness Scouts who is determined to get his "Assisting The Elderly" merit badge in order to become a Senior Scout. Carl wants nothing to do with him and doesn't realize that Russell is on his front porch when he lifts the house into the sky.

And that's just the beginning. We follow Carl and Russell as they face various types of danger on their way to the South American jungle where they meet giant birds, talking dogs and a former hero who has long since gone mad as Carl and Russell grow to depend on and appreciate each other more and more. Carl never had a son and Russell is neglected by his dad but Carl is too consumed by his grief to realize that the two could fill some of the holes in each others' lives.

Up is another winner for Pixar. I especially appreciate some of the subtle touches like the way Ellie's empty chairs are made brighter so as to highlight how empty Carl's life is now. I doubt I'll see a better movie this summer. Naturally, it almost certainly won't be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (though it will at least be nominated for Best Animated Film, the award they had to create so they could stop being embarrassed by the fact that Pixar wasn't winning Oscars).

*Hmm, that really makes no sense. Anyone not covered under "parents and kids" must be both genetically engineered and childless. Oh well, moving on.

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