The folks at Pixar are an eclectic group. Over the years they have moved on from their roles as technological pioneers to animation revolutionaries of sorts, trying to boldly bring the form back into maturity after it has long been relegated to the stuff of Saturday morning television. It is no surprise then that Up does everything in its power to subvert our preconceived notions of the animated film. The main character is neither young nor cuddly, the themes are complex and layered, and death is a very real possibility in the world of the film. Still, this is a Disney film so it hits most of the marketable requirements.
Up is the story of Carl Fredrickson, and elderly widower who decides to float his house to South America, fulfilling a wish he and his late wife have shared since childhood. After takeoff, a young boy scout named Russell is discovered as a stowaway and becomes Carl’s unwanted sidekick. The team makes it to their destination, running into some new friends: Kevin, a giant bird with a knack for trickery, and Doug, a cheerful dog equipped with a collar that allows him to speak. These new visitors set up a mad-cap adventure for the two city-dwellers, and we are invited along for the ride.
Parents should be warned that they will have to have some serious talks with their kids upon viewing, including but not limited to death, infertility, and non-amicable divorce. Just like Wall?E _and The Incredibles_ before it, Up reaches for an audience past its target demo of toddlers, tykes and tweens. It is also grounded in reality much more than any other Pixar film. This is not the future or a bug world or a toy world, this is our world. By keeping the story in the here and now, the audience must actually suspend belief much further than they do for more fantastical fare. A viewer may spend a bit more time scratching his head during Up, but the emotional progression of the story is clear enough to allow one to set aside logic for a little while.
This film is also Pixar’s first foray into the world of 3D presentation. As a concept, 3D projection has its own own set of issues that any filmmaker must overcome. For one, audience members need to be enticed to don the plastic goggles required to see the film as such while not bogged down with stuff flying at their faces for too long. Directors Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson strike a nice balance in this regard, using the third dimension to enhance the story rather than as a cheap parlor trick. After a little while, 3D melts away and you are only reminded of it when something actually does jump out at you. Employing classical methods reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder, that director’s lone 3D dabbling, such as subtly placing objects in the foreground, inviting the viewer to “step into” the frame, visually. It is a nice touch.
I will say that I was less than pleased with the fact that the only way to see this movie in 3D is digitally projected. I have always had trouble viewing Pixar films on DVD since they are coming direct from their digital source instead of from a film print. The effect is much colder and less organic than what you are used to, and with digital projection you feel as though you are basically watching a movie in s giant home theater. Motion is a little choppy, ironically, because there is too much information coming from the screen. Our eyes have trouble keeping up; it looks hyper-real. Over time, the projectors and delivery systems will only get better, and I’m nitpicking right now. Back to the film at hand.
Up is the perfect film for Pixar to make right now because it is so unexpected. Every other animation company is picking up the crumbs they leave behind, yet they keep raising the bar far above what anyone else is capable of. This film would never work as a live-action piece, but that is exactly the point. Animation is not a tool for Pixar but a movement. Thankfully, they are moving it in the right direction, forward. (Or up, if you would like to end on a more pithy note.)