Up: Pixar Continues to Soar Above the Rest

The new Pixar film is great. But you already knew that. The animation studio that sets the bar for computer animated imagery and for witty heartfelt storytelling are in full force here, creating a film that surprised me around every turn. If there is any justice in the world, this will be the biggest hit of the summer. It has mind-blowing visuals, sequences of sheer brilliance, and Dug the dog, the funniest character in a Pixar film since Dory in Finding Nemo. I’m not going to tell you a single thing about the plot in this review, because to tell you anything would be to ruin the fun. Instead, I’ll tell you everything else.

The first ten minutes of this movie are unparalleled by any ten minute run of cinema you’re likely to see all year. It’s funny, sad, and tells you all you need to know about our main character with barely a single word said by him. This is what movies are all about– pictures telling stories. No voice-over necessary, no subtitles, no one explaining what’s going on. It’s called trusting the audience, and Pixar is the only studio that does it with consistency. They deal with some adult themes in the first ten minutes too… not in the sense that young people shouldn’t see it, but in the sense that grown-ups will feel their heartstrings pulled potentially even more than the children will. After the very mature Wall-E, here is another film from Pixar that is REQUIRED VIEWING FOR ALL ADULTS.

This isn’t the most complicated plot that the Pixar team has come up with, nor is it the most ambitious. But there is beauty in simplicity, and Up has really about five or six characters tops that we spend the full hour and a half with. This gives us time to really get to know them all, something that other summer blockbusters, crammed full of supporting players, wouldn’t know anything about. They don’t even have to talk constantly to tell us what we need to know, and the main character doesn’t talk more than he has to. Instead, Pixar uses body language, grunts and moans, and the sensational score by Michael Giacchino to invite us along for the ride. Quick aside: is there any composer for the screen doing better work currently than Michael Giacchino? Don’t bother answering, it was rhetorical– of course there isn’t.

The voice acting is terrific, primarily done by Ed Asner and Jordan Nagai. When will other animation studios learn that getting recognizable voices for your characters may help with advertising, and may be a quick diversion for your audience (“Hey look, that dog talks like Snoop Dogg! Hilarious!”), but that type of stunt-casting often takes the audience away from the story. If your audience is thinking at the end “Eddie Murphy sure was funny as that donkey,” instead of “Donkey was a funny character,” then you’ve lost the battle. I never think during Pixar films about the actors doing the voices– even when it’s a recognizable voice, a Tom Hanks, an Ellen DeGeneres, a Billy Crystal, the reason why I think about the characters and not the voice actors is because (a) the characters are well-written, and (b) the actors are well-cast for that role, not simply cast because they’re famous. Every character here is unique and memorable. Especially Dug the dog, who I reiterate will likely end up being one of the funniest characters of the year. If you’ve seen the commercials, you’ve started to understand why he’s funny… but you have no idea how he and his co-workers will make you laugh.

Finally, the animation. Just as no Pixar film is alike in terms of story– all take place with very different characters in different worlds– no Pixar film looks alike. They have created some of the most beautiful landscapes imaginable, and done so flawlessly, to the point where it stops being animated and becomes absolutely real. They’ve done the ocean, they’ve done Paris, they’ve done space, and now they’ve made South America. Honestly, if you showed me real footage of South America and then footage from Up, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. How are they so above and beyond every other animation standard? Not even the best Dreamworks landscape comes within light years of the least impressive shot in a Pixar film.

Forget animation– they continue to go beyond the cinematic standard. Tell me at year’s end the opening of Up isn’t one of the most unforgettable scenes of 2009. Tell me at year’s end Dug isn’t one of the funniest characters all year. Tell me at year’s end you don’t still vividly remember the adventure of an old man and a small boy, and I’ll call you a liar. I haven’t yet seen the film in 3D, but judging how Pixar usually bests the rest, I’d imagine if it sounds like fun, go for it– I’ll see it in 3D soon enough (in particular, the scenes in the sky and the jutting angles of the main character’s face should make for intriguing 3D visuals). Even if you don’t get a chance to see it in 3D, see it in 2D– you’ll get sucked into the film’s dimensions even without glasses.

~ by russellhainline on May 29, 2009.

5 Responses to “Up: Pixar Continues to Soar Above the Rest”

  1. so where does it fit in the top 10?

    • In the ranking of 10 Pixar films? Hard to say, lemme think about it. Probably somewhere between 4 and 7. But it’s a four-star classic, no doubt.

  2. can’t wait to see it, thanks for the extensive review

  3. Looks like a good-un! I can’t wait to see what Up has in store for Pixar’s future…

  4. […] Best Animated Feature: 9. Monsters vs. Aliens 8. 9 7. Fantastic Mr. Fox 6. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 5. Coraline 4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 3. Ponyo 2. The Princess and the Frog 1. Up […]

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