I almost hurt myself yesterday afternoon- but fortunately, it was from laughing too hard at the splendid new Pixar film “Up.” These are the brilliant folks who brought you Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and The Incredibles, so they obviously know a little something about creating wonderful movies, but this new film fully meets and in some ways even exceeds the magnificent legacy of those previous films. It is a terrific mix of hilarity and heart – but what made it even more fun was that I got to see it with Kathy on one side of me and Marshall on the other. . . although I was laughing so uproariously that they were probably both tempted to move away from me a couple of seats. (They didn’t.) And in fact, I probably laughed even harder at the short film which preceded it. I can’t even remember now what it’s called, but it’s an imaginative take on the old notion of the Stork. If there was a moment yesterday when I thought they I might require stitches, it was during this short film. And because Marshall and I are going back to see it again today, I should have All Saints ER on stand-by, just in case.
I hardly know where to begin in praising “Up.” First of all, it’s a movie with some brilliant colors in it, which I like – and in many other ways it is a feast for the eyes. . . but when the story calls for images of bleakness and emptiness, they are given to us very potently. And there are action sequences that were just about more than this old heart of mine could stand. At several points of onscreen peril, I found myself yelling “Oh no!” or “Watch out!” – as if the endangered characters on the screen were really in danger – and as if they could hear me! It’s a sign of two things – both the vivid storytelling of “Up” as well as my almost absurd capacity to lose myself in a good movie. . . much to the amusement of Marshall and Kathy, I think.
What is most arresting about this film, though, are the people in it. . . and they very much feel like real people with a myriad of emotions. . . unlike Toy Story (one of the very first Pixar animated features) in which the people in the film had this very waxy and stiff quality about them. Somebody at Pixar has figured out how to fashion much more believable-looking people with faces that seem incredibly alive, and it makes a huge difference. Then there are the voices, including Ed Asner as the old man at the heart of the story. Hollywood’s practice of almost always using “name” actors for voice-overs often backfires, because it’s hard to forget that the voice behind that wooly mammoth (to give one example) is Ray Romano, and you keep expect Debra or Marie or Robert to step out of the bushes. So when I heard that Ed Asner was voicing the lead, I wondered if we would be sitting there waiting for Mary and Rhoda and Ted Baxter to put in an appearance as well. But no, Ed Asher inhabits this character completely and believably. And the young boy who voices the Wilderness Scout who befriends him is just as good.
What I especially love is that this is not a particularly slick film, built on a sure-fire formula. Just the fact that they made a film with a crusty, melancholy widower as the central character defies some logic. And indeed, maybe 15 minutes into the film a little boy in the theater audibly complained to whoever was with him “This is boring.” And indeed for little kids, this film maybe demands a little more patience then they are likely to possess. But they never have to hang in there very long before there is another round of mayhem and excitement. But for Kathy and Marshall and me, I don’t think there was a moment where we found ourselves waiting for something to happen. The story is rich and multi-hued and just the right balance of funny and poignant, with a very sweet payoff at the end. And by the way, one of the Chicago Tribune reviews said that the montage sequence towards the beginning of the film which summarizes this old man’s adult life is probably the finest montage in film history (and not just animated film history.) And I would have to agree. This six minute sequence is a masterpiece within a masterpiece and is worth the price of admission in and of itself.
So I loved it. And I strongly suspect that when I go back today to see it again, I will love it just as much – and laugh just as hard – and shed a couple of tears again.
pictured above: This is part of the neat “Up” display at Disney Hollywood. This is a model of the little boy, Russell, who is an Explore Scout who is anxious to get his Assisting The Elderly badge.