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|Cinema Signal: Go! Strong appeal for all audiences|
Disney Pixar Greatest:
The first thing that "Up" has inspired among critics is the ranking it gets (and deserves) against the other nine animated films in the Pixar portfolio. The disagreement may be about which are the top three, say, but there's no disagreement that this belongs to that rarified atmosphere. Just for the record, I place it alongside my fave, "The Incredibles," which I consider as perfect a piece of film as one can find in animation or live action.
How many production houses can boast of reordering audiences' favorites lists with each new release? Well, almost each one. But one thing seems evident, Pixar keeps raising the bar because they learn from their mistakes as well as their successes.
Action-adventure yarn "Up" may be counted as one of the funniest of Pixar's lot, though it starts with accusations of a hoax. In a newsreel of the time (circa 1940s?), The exploits of explorer Charles F. Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) are being celebrated until someone in the theatre yells, "Hoax," accusing him of falsifying his rare find, a skeleton of a 13-foot-tall flightless bird that exists only in a rare South American habitat near the site of the tallest waterfall in the world.
Though Muntz is disgraced, and vows to return to the site of his discovery in order to capture a live specimen and prove the world wrong, his ardent fan Carl Fredricksen ( (voiced by Jeremy Leary)), wearing a leather helmet in the style of his, hears nothing of his hero's fall from grace. Rather, his shy and quiet demeanor gets fired up with any sighting of Muntz and/or his dirigible.
It's Carl's fate to meet neighborhood tomboy Ellie (voiced by the director's kid, Elie Docter) who is at least as ardent a fan of explorer Muntz as Carl, and she is soon diverting his thoughts with her growing interest in him. She's got enough outgoing personality and verbosity for the both of them.
A plump and eager boyscout named Russell (Jordan Nagai) comes to his door needing to help the codger in some way in order to earn his "assisting the elderly" merit badge--one more offer Carl handily turns down. Carl then allows his anger to get the better of him. He whacks a workman for backing up his truck into the mail box, leaving the post listing to port and a bloody mark on the driver's forehead.
Which puts Carl in a pack of trouble with the law and facing the possibility of losing his home by incarceration. A plan of escape takes hold, and by the time two officials come to take him away, he's attached a humongous bag of helium balloons to the house, hidden under a tarp. While they're waiting for him at their vehicle, Carl hits the release, sending the building into the air, afloat on the wind currents. With outrigger sails and the weathervane acting as a rudder, he's on his way in true adventurer spirit and no fear of failure. He's navigating to his and Ellie's Paradise Falls!
From there, things have a way of going right and very wrong. For starters, Russell has stowed aboard and, because of the impossibility of dropping him off, Carl accepts his help and companionship in an odd-couple relationship that turns out to be not so bad. The kid's excitement level and natural tendency to be upbeat is the perfect foil for the old man's crabby disposition.
The dichotomy is a storehouse of serendipity to be mined for scares, triumphs and bone jerking laughter. Get ready for talking dogs and a surprise villain. And that very rare bird that Muntz was after? Well, he loves chocolate and his name is Kevin.
One of the greatest technical achievements is Pixar's masterly command of facial expression and human movement. In terms of storytelling, their ability to turn down the volume of sentimentality with the deft brilliance of action and activity concepts, with characters that are so on target to take us along on their magnificent journey, simply excels! Furthermore, as a pallette of very wide scope and depth, the land and sky could not be put to more satisfying use. Uplifting in every way.
"Up" also brings to film entertainment a new day for 3-D. No more reliance on red and blue filters or polarization for the dual perspectives of depth perception. To the naked eye, the two sides of the glasses provided by the theatre management look the same, both grey. Through a process of digital photogrammetry, stereo image processing is accomplished with special camera hardware controlled by a stereoscopic supervisor on the set. The effect can be encoded to an MPEG-4 stream and saved on DVDs or hard disks.
The awe of the result doesn't, in any way, become a showcase of depth effects or a demonstration of the marvels of the technique. Instead, Docter controls the effect by varying the separation as part of his storytelling toolbox. He calls for a flattened, claustrophobic feeling inside Carl's house and an expansiveness of it in the jungles of South America.
The animation master never takes the effect beyond the bounds of good taste and service to his perfectly written adventure and the visual sumptuousness of the settings. What he knows that many another show-off showman doesn't is that less is more, so that when the 3D illusion is used, even with a passing cloud in the very close foreground, the effectiveness is stunning. That, alone, is worth the price of admission and merits more than a few kudos, though you get so much more than that to revel and marvel in.
~~ Jules Brenner