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Looking back at my gushing words for last yearís WALL-E, I feel slightly sheepish.  While I certainly enjoyed it, I realise that my joy at having a Pixar film that was exponentially better than its two predecessors, Cars and Ratatouille, overwhelmed my hesitation that WALL-E was actually two films awkwardly jammed together.  The first half, featuring the adorable little robot alone on Earth but for his best pal, one Hal Roach, and his courtship of the super high-tech Eve was so sublime that it tempered the wildly uneven second half; a rather graceless PSA about saving the planet and the evils of becoming morbidly obese.  Iím glad I have no such trepidation regarding the rave about to follow for Pixarís latest adventure, simply entitled Up.

Carl Frederickson wasnít always a cranky little old man.  Quite contraire, about 70 years ago, Carl was a chubby little boy with a vivid imagination, dreaming of following in the adventurous footsteps of his idol, the swashbuckling explorer, Charles Muntz.  Carlís neighbourhood voyages lead him to meet a like-minded sprite named Ellie, whose exuberance, pluck and daring are the complete opposite of her shy new friend.  Together they form their own Explorerís Club based on their shared love of Muntz and their plans to see the world as he did.  Over time, that bond becomes a far stronger one as the pair grows older and marries.  Carl and Ellie live a long happy life of domestic ups and downs inside the little house they first met in as children.  When Ellie passes, Carlís aspiration to see the world dies with her as their house becomes a shrine to their life together.  Instead of living out his days in peace, Carlís small corner of the world isnít safe from greedy real estate developers who want the land the house sits on and will stoop to low means to get it.  Carl is leery of every visitor, including the cheerful, chatty 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer who turns up on his doorstep.  Russell is a little butterball of earnest boy scout values and he wonít be deterred by Carlís grouchy veneer from getting the ďassisting the elderlyĒ badge he needs to pass to the next scouting level.  Itís only Russellís bad timing that finds him on an unorthodox trip to South America as Carl makes a final stance against the developers by filling his entire house with helium balloons and quite literally flying away.  Carl remembers Ellieís dearest wish as a little girl and is determined to take their home to Paradise Falls, the last known location of their shared idol, Charles Muntz.  Using curtains and shower rods as his masts and sails Carl flies himself, Russell, and his house to the mysterious jungles of South America.

I was reminded of the quote by Fausto Coppi: "Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill."  Carl is a crafty codger, who simply wants to be left alone.  His brief fantasies of hanging the exasperatingly energetic Russell out of a window of the flying house are a hoot.  The well-meaning little boy has learned nothing in his Wilderness Explorer guides that could prepare him for the grumpy old man.  Yet, thrown together by these amazing circumstances, the two find mutual ground to need each other, even if Carl doesnít know, or appreciate it yet.  As they make their way through the South American jungle, Carl finds himself protecting not only the little boy, but an exotic, giant bird Russell discovers and dubs Kevin, that is hunted by a pack of trained dogs.  One of the pack is a slobbering, friendly hound named Dug, who really, really loves the two humans; we know this because Dug tells us so.  Equipped with a high-tech collar that can translate his doggy thoughts into multiple languages, we are finally given insight into what our canines think.  Unfortunately, Dugís colleagues arenít quite as lovable or distractible as he is and we soon find out who it is that has been tracking the big goofy bird.  Carlís dilemma is to get the house to Paradise Falls before all the balloons lose their lift and to try and keep himself and eager, young Russell in one piece. 

As it is Pixar, weíve come to expect a level of aesthetic brilliance with each film and Up doesnít disappoint.  Who as a child hasnít wished the balloon they grasped in their hand couldnít carry them away to some far-off land?  The initial flight of Carlís house pulled by hundreds of helium-filled balloons is a dream come to life, majestic and breathtaking; each colourful sphere detailed and individual.  The square, squat renderings of Carl himself tells the audience so much about the character before we seen him slowly sliding sideways down an unreliable stair lift.  Russellís chubby roundness and Kevinís abstract pear-shaped design are complete contrasts to Carl, which made me think of the Chuck Jones classic, The Dot and the Line, and how strict Carl must learn to bend to cope with these two.  Much care was taken with the depiction of the lush South American jungle and the audience can practically see dewdrops of condensation on the bright green leaves.  The house is lowered into a valley and Carl and Russell dodge towering rock formations, making for some quite scary moments, particularly in the 3D version.   Kevin the snipe is a whimsical burst of bright, riotous colour and its movements; the rubbery limbs, the bug-eyed head that revolves 360 degrees, and the preternatural hiss whenever its beloved Russell is threatened, capture the very alien-ness of this funny, foreign creature.  Carlís high-flying dogfight against the birdís ruthless pursuers is thrilling and clever.  Unlike Upís recent Pixar predecessors, thereís not a flat or badly paced moment in the film. 

Up delivers a great message without pointing fingers or bashing you over the head, never becoming anything less than incredibly entertaining.  Carl is an unlikely hero, but audiences will cheer for the septuagenarian and his common-sense heroics.  Director Pete Docter shows us early on why Carl is so closed off to the rest of the world and how much the loss of his dear Ellie meant to him.  The first 10 minutes of Up had me sobbing like a fool both times Iíve seen it and Iím sure itíll happen on the third and fourth times, as well.  It is in the charming trio of Russell, the sweetly precocious little boy, Kevin, the slap-happy oversized parakeet, and the dizzy, devoted Dug, that we understand Carl has met the match that even his reinforced walls of sadness cannot stand up against.  Thoroughly and consistently delightful, Up is a wonderful story that strikes a perfect balance between moving sentiment and rollicking fun.

Run to this, kids.  Itís amazing.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

May 28th 2009

 

PS: Click here for our interview with Up director Pete Docter (- Who also gave us Mike, Sully and Boo from Monsters, Inc. and wrote the Toy Story films) and producer Jonas Rivera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Disney/Pixar)

 

 

 

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