I like Up,
but I don't love it. That surprised me, because after the first
fifteen minutes I was ready to love it, more than my wife, more
than a car, even more than a few brands of beer and Robitussin.
There's a lot of good shit in this movie, but then there's stuff
that felt like it came out of a weaker Dreamworks production.
Up is primarily the story of an old man's quest to fulfill
a lifelong promise to his late wife before it's too late, about
getting old and the sense that you've left someone disappointed.
It's got a hell of a love story. Where it falls apart for me,
though, is some of the less interesting secondary characters
and some surprisingly formulaic gags and plotting. That love
story, though. Holllly fuck.
Ed Asner is the voice
of Carl Fredricksen, a retired balloon salesman. I've read stuff
where this character is referred to as a curmudgeon. He's not;
he's the most complex character in the movie. He's mostly disappointed
in himself and lonely. Those are a hell of a lot different than
curmudgeonly. In fact, they're exactly where I expect to be
at the end of my life if I sober up enough to look back.
The movie starts
out with Fredricksen as a shy kid swept into the world of Ellie,
a girl who shares his love for world explorer Walter Muntz.
Fredricksen would probably be happy just watching Muntz, but
Ellie wants to be an explorer herself and she brings Fredricksen
out of his shell trough force of will. Up then gives
us a montage of their young romance, marriage, heartbreaks and
aging together, until she passes away. It's a fucking brilliant
montage that made me understand the depth of their love for
each other, love both of them, and love how they and their dreams
helped them deal with life's disappointments, and why their
dream of following in Muntz's footsteps got sidetracked. These
five minutes are the best part of the movie, and maybe worth
the price of admission alone. Well, maybe not the inflated price
of the 3-D screenings, but definitely the 2-D.
After Ellie's death,
Fredricksen becomes a recluse, which is different than a curmudgeon.
He is alone and thinks that because he and Ellie never made
it to the jungles of Venezuela as he had promised her that he
let her down. I get that same feeling sometimes. If Mrs. Filthy
died tomorrow, I will forever regret having not gotten around
to cleaning up that bottle of maple syrup I spilled in the hallway
six years ago. That overwhelming stench of stale syrup and the
pile of lint, crap and scraps of paper stuck to the carpet will
forever remind me that I never did the one thing she begged
me to do, and that I may or may not have promised. It's been
so long I can't remember and it's usually easier to assume I
When age finally
does catch up with Fredricksen and he faces going to a retirement
home, he decides to escape to the destination of he and Ellie's
dreams. It's his way to physically avoid the confinement of
old age, and a way to finally feel that his wife s still with
him in some way.
his house to a few hundred thousand helium balloons, and lifts
off for Paradise Falls in Venezuela. What he doesn't know is
that a fat Cub Scout (called Wilderness Explorer here) named
Russell (Jordan Nagai) is on his porch trying to earn his "Assisting
the Elderly" badge.
After landing in
Venezuela all Fredricksen wants to do is drag his house to the
Falls so he can go where he always promised Ellie he would.
To him, it's not an adventure, it's just a trip to a destination.
For Russell, it's an adventure.
The "adventure" is
where Up fails a little. Well, the first place is with
the Russell character. I suppose he's supposed to be cute, or
something, but the kid did nothing for me. Besides being Eurasian,
there is little about him that's interesting or clever. He's
given a backstory of coming from a broken home and looking for
a father figure, but what kid in the movies isn't? I can't think
of any gags or plot driven by Russell that feel fresh.
Once in Venzuela,
Russell and Fredricksen are befriended by a pair of somewhat-generically
cute animals. One is a huge bird that was believed non-existent,
and the other is a dog with a collar that translates his thoughts
into words. They are then terrorized by much tougher dogs, who
also have translating collars and are in search of the giant
bird. Dug, the dog who accompanies Russell and Fredricksen,
is fat and has some funny lines. But, I also got the nagging
feeling this was Pixar's attempt to have a talking animal without
admitting they had stooped that low. And, mostly, Dug acts as
an uninspired piece of trite dog humor. Hee hee, dogs have short
attention spans and like to chase tennis balls.
The rest of the dogs
are under the command of Walter Muntz (Christopher Plummer),
the adventurer that Fredricksen idolized as a kid, and who must
be nearly 100 now. He still lives in his zeppelin in the jungle.
He was accused of making up the giant bird some 70 years earlier
and has spent his entire life trying to find it to prove to
the world he isn't a fraud. He is a bit of an asshole; he will
kill Russell and Fredricksen to get the bird. Fredricksen's
mission has changed since he got to Venezuela. Maybe he realizes
that there's more to a trip than just getting to the end, or
maybe he's reminded of why he wanted to go in the first place.
Whatever, he wants to protect the bird and its babies from Muntz.
for wanting to protect the birds may be traced back to the montage,
when he and Ellie learned they would never have the children
they hoped for. Or maybe it's a nurturing sense he gets from
dragging Russell around the forest. Regardless, this sends Up
into its third act, a series of action pieces including chases,
and a scramble aboard the airborne zeppelin. There are big bird
heroics chases and dogs flying planes. It's exciting and fun,
but also more formulaic than I expected.
Up is pure
fantasy, and as such, a lot of weird shit can be granted and
expected. Like that an old dude would survive in the jungle
living in a blimp for seventy years, or the planes and its engines
would still have good gas. That a talking dog would have such
a huge vocabulary, or a house strapped to balloons would end
up 7,000 miles away, almost exactly where it wants to be.
But, when characters
act arbitrarily, it can't be excused as fantasy. At the beginning
of Up, Fredricksen is a slow-moving, slow-rising old
guy. For most of the movie he dodders with a cane. In the third
act, though, he's a superman. He can climb the upside down ladder
on the zeppelin, carry heavy objects, yank a fat boy out of
the air. All of these actions are dictated by the action, not
the character. And they detract from what made Fredricksen so
likeable to begin with. I thought the movie would end with him
being a hero in unconventional ways that were limited by his
age. Instead, he's Cary fucking Grant in North by Northwest.
The Venezuelan jungle
and the various creatures feel like a step back graphically
for Pixar. Everything looks okay, but not particularly memorable
or inspired. Particularly disappointing is the entire Paradise
Falls area that Fredricksen and Ellie dreamed of. It's pretty,
but that's about it.
an unusual hero and a fucking fantastic love story. Like other
Pixar movies, it has a sentimental side for the sense of loss
from dreams unfulfilled or taken away. And that shit's great.
But it uses easy outs and some undeveloped characters to graft
on the action, and that's a disappointment. Four Fingers
to tell Filthy Something?