Pixar’s eternal brilliance is already so widely accepted by now that there’s no point in rehashing it again. But I just have to rehash it again. World, you may keep your “Ice Age” sequels, your “Horton Hears a Who” lacklusters, your “Shrek 2,3…?” and “Madagascar” and the okay ones like “Over the Hedge” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” These will not remain. These will not be remembered, and if they are they will surely not be regarded as anything other than a means of marking time. Leave me Pixar and leave me be.
The creators at Pixar understand this life. Names like Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Brad Bird (my personal favorite) and the writer/director of “UP,” Pete Doctor – all of these men are expert storytellers, but they all retain a sense of wonder that so many children have and so few adults can even recall. They remember (and love) what it felt like to think about the possibilities of life, they return to that place over and over and are blessed enough to call it their job. With the hours they put in and the care they demand, it is a miracle that Pixar continues to hold onto that sensibility picture after picture. Their films understand that the soul needs that childlike sense in order to grow, that we aren’t meant to move on from that wonder, we’re supposed to add to it; that without holding onto some part of the kid in us, we stagnate. We get old but not wise, we live but aren’t alive. Their movies make me feel that awe again, every time I sit down and watch them. They fill my heart, and they uncover feelings that I haven’t felt for a while or forgot existed.
So it was with “UP,” a film I assumed I would enjoy, but how much I wasn’t sure. Would it be like “The Incredibles” or last year’s “Wall*E” ? Few can be. Would it be a solid effort like “Monsters, Inc.” ? I couldn’t tell. And they are very crafty, those folks who promoted this movie. In a time when movie trailers tend to give away every remotely interesting thing in the movie, the previews for “UP” seem to deliberately withhold the most crucial, powerful elements. They were right to do so. Trailers are seen so many times that it would have reduced the film’s power and impact to see too much too soon. Instead, they gave us the bare bones plot. Old man, young kid, a house that floats because of a ton of balloons.
This movie gave me so much. With a main character over 60, you wouldn’t expect the word “Adventure” to be the primary description, but it is. The movie has great adventure set-pieces, like chases through forests and cliff sides and the sky. It has a perfect blend of physical and verbal comedy. The movie plays mostly fair and doesn’t allow its characters to be superheroes (even when they’re being superheroes) and the supporting cast of animals adds a very nice dimension to the world while also bringing in the families.
But what I really want to talk about are a few things. First, the aerial shots of the house floating over vast expanses. These shots took my breath away. They are so pristine as to move one to tears. The sense of peace, of freedom, of life and this planet, this beautiful glorious planet of ours. Yet for all of these, my favorite moment of the film is its first act, which hovers over the rest of it and is embodied by the house itself. There are a few scenes with Carl as a child, meeting his wife Ellie, who is a darling, half-tomboy. The scenes where she talks about having adventures and he sits transfixed, having found that person who makes it all click. There is an entire sequence showing their lives together, from marriage to old age, and here is where Pixar shows its brilliance. It is reminiscent of a familial montage in another Pixar film, “The Incredibles,” but it is even more complete in some ways. Most films burn through backstory like this in a quick montage that hits some highlights, delivers the exposition and moves on. Inevitably, they lack an emotional core, because they feel purely functional. Perfunctory. Not this one. Wordless, though ever filled with life, it shows us two complete characters and their life together. It is an extended, patient sequence. It refuses to go through the motions. It observes it characters with tenderness and care, and I fell in love with it. It skewered my heart and I was terribly, completely taken away by it.
How do they do this, Pixar and their films? How do they make us smile while we cry? How do they inspire both awe and affection at once? These are films that will remain, because they are films made by people who love these stories too much to see them marred by easy pop culture references and who respect their audience too much to deceive them with a cheap product for a fast dollar. Pixar could take it easy. Their record is so impressive, they could churn out 3 or 4 movies, and they’d make money just because of the name. But I don’t think that will happen though. I think the product is good because the investment is personal and true and good. “UP” is the latest film from the one of the best companies around, and it is so good as to revive the heart and soul.