Film Review: Up

Posted by: Tony – May 29, 2009


If there is one thing that Pixar has always been able to accomplish with their films, it is instilling their characters with a great deal of humanity and soul. Up continues this trend with great success. If you have not yet accepted that an animated movie is capable of making you feel warmth from loving characters or breaking your heart when those characters are sad, the opening scenes in Pixar’s latest film may convince you. If you are already a faithful Pixar convert, though, you can look forward to yet another superior animated feature.

Up focuses on an elderly man named Carl who actively stands in the way of so-called progress. He refuses to leave the home he shared with his late wife, Ellie, even when a construction company begins to pressure him to vacate so they can start work on some new skyscrapers. After a heated argument provokes Carl to a quick act of violence (he hits one worker over the head with his cane), he receives a court order to move into a retirement community. Faced with losing his home, Carl spends his last night preparing to fulfill a promise he made to Ellie before she died. He attaches thousands of helium balloons to the house in order to fly to South America and settle at Paradise Falls. He is unexpectedly accompanied on his journey by Russell, a young boy scout who had been approaching Carl’s house when it took off in the hopes of earning his merit badge for assisting the elderly.

The adventure Carl and Russell embark on when they reach Paradise Falls represents Pixar at their best. We witness characters who are so real they could be your neighbors thrust into impossible situations. They make new friends in the form of a giant colorful bird they call Kevin, and a dog named Dug with the mysterious ability to speak. More importantly, though, Carl and Russell learn more about themselves and each other. Carl still deals with the loss of his wife, and Russell hints at issues with his father. This is more than just an adventure, it is a story of emotional growth.

Fortunately for the younger crowd Up will attract, though, there is an exciting adventure going on while our heroes talk to each other. The mystery behind Dug’s speaking ability is explained and Carl must confront his childhood hero, an explorer named Muntz who has spent a lifetime hunting birds like Kevin. The outcome is predictable, but we do not see animated family films to be surprised. The job of the filmmakers here is to come up with new characters who we can enjoy watching as they venture toward their happy ending. In that regard, they have succeeded.

I should note that I viewed this film in 3D. I should also tell you that I very much wish I hadn’t. For two extra dollars added to the ticket price at some theaters, you can receive 3D glasses for a different viewing experience. Though the technology has thankfully advanced beyond the red and blue lenses, it has not yet reached the point where it actually enhances the film.

On more than one occasion during Up, I lifted my glasses to get a sense of how the movie would look normally. I was treated to bright and vibrant colors that were an absolute joy to see. Unfortunately, the 3D glasses dim and mute those wonderful colors. Sure the image pops out a little bit, but it felt to me like I was watching the film with a pair of sunglasses on. There was also a strange blurring and ghosting effect on anything that was not at the center of the screen. In an early scene, Carl travels down his stairs by way of a chair lift. As he slowly moves from the upper right corner to the middle and then off the bottom left, you will see him transform from a blurry mess to a sharply focused figure and then back again.

Up is an absolutely wonderful movie, but it is not because of the 3D element. If you missed out on the superior 3D imagery of Coraline earlier this year and you find your curiosity impossible to control, then by all means, pay or a 3D showing. However, I believe you will find, as I did, that the minimal immersion is not worth the bugs that have yet to be worked out of this technology. I will be seeing the film again in standard 2D, and I suspect that most people who see a 3D showing will be compelled to, as well.

Gareth Mussen