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Story flaw deflates enjoyable ride of ‘Up’

POSTED: June 17, 2009 11:30 p.m.
/Pixar

'Up' features Carl Fredricksen, left, and Russell in their adventures moving Carl's house to Paradise Falls in South America. The film falters in its writing - which Pixar did better in "WALL-E" and "Ratatouille" - but still is much better than other animated films.

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So right now you’re thinking, a review of “Up,” isn’t Marker a little late on this one?

Yes, Marker is. But my day job interfered with my night job this week, and I couldn’t make the screening of “The Proposal” (and oh, how I regret not sitting through a romantic comedy starring the utterly unlikeable Ryan Reynolds). “Year One” wasn’t screened for critics, which always casts doubt on a movie’s quality.

I was forced to choose among movies recently released but not already reviewed in this paper. Which left “The Hangover,” “My Life in Ruins,” and “Up.”

Now, really, which would you choose?

That in itself says something about “Up,” and even more about its production studio, Pixar. The geniuses at Pixar have sustained a historic streak of success. “Up” is their 11th feature, and each one has had at least a respectable success. Most regard “Cars” as their worst feature, and it’s still better than what most animation studios are pumping out.

So synonymous with quality is the Pixar product that each new release spawns a fresh debate over which is their best, and to determine the best Pixar is to determine the best computer-generated animated film of all time.

Of course, such a lofty reputation makes us expect greatness from Pixar, and when they don’t live up, we’re disappointed.

Well, “Up” is decidedly not Pixar’s best, and probably not among their top five.

But “Up” does pack as much heart as any Pixar movie because the whole story builds around a great love story.

Young Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) idolizes the Charles Lindberg-esque adventurer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). As a boy, he falls in love with Ellie, another Muntz fanatic. Carl and Ellie eventually marry and begin saving money for a trip to Paradise Falls, a remote South American paradise that Muntz discovered.

Then life happens, and a minor expense forces them to literally break open the Paradise Falls coin jar. Life keeps on happening until they have reached the winter of their lives without ever going on their great adventure.

This sequence showcases Pixar’s writing and animation at its best. A three-minute montage begins when Carl and Ellie are children, progresses through their adulthood and continues until they are both elderly, and ends with Ellie’s death. In the space of a pop song, directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson tell the story of two lives with such love and clarity that we’re in tears by the end.

With Ellie gone, Carl decides he must do in her death what they never could as a couple: reach Paradise Falls. You probably know the rest by now: Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house to make it fly and an 8-year old stowaway named Russell (Jordan Nagai) tags along. Once in South America, Russell gives a few bites of chocolate to a huge, colorful bird, which begins to follow Carl and Russell everywhere they go. They also adopt a dog named Dug (Bob Peterson) who wears a collar that translates his thoughts into words, making him a talking dog.

Unfortunately, Carl and Russell also encounter Charles Muntz, whose relentless, unsuccessful quest to find the colorful bird has transformed him into a villain so evil he tries more than once to kill Russell.

And we’ve hit on the big, glaring weakness in “Up”: a matinee idol becomes a rapacious killer because he can’t catch the very bird that 8-year old Russell attracted with chocolate. Such weaknesses in the writing kind of deflate the whole thing, you might say.

“Up” is by no means Pixar’s best film. “Toy Story” and its sequel were funnier, “The Incredibles” was more exciting and both “WALL-E” and “Ratatouille” feature better writing. Still, as we all know, even average Pixar is pretty darn good.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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