Friday, May 29, 2009


As you may know, I'm not exactly smitten with the touchy-feely detailed antics of Pixar. I did enjoy "Monsters, Inc." and "The Incredibles" and believed that "Ratatouille" had an interesting premise of sorts, but not until last year's powerful and innovative "Wall-E" was I impressed by a product of the animation company. No, it was not perfect, but it was quite an improvement from what I'd seen previously. At parts, I was severely moved. But that was the work of Andrew Stanton. Pete Docter, "Up"'s director, only doctored with the story of "Wall-E" and had no say in the real bulk of the film. Here, he gets to control his own film. He didn't write it, so he can't be attributed with the successes and failures of the gimmicky idea and MacGuffin of the film. That was Bob Peterson. He's the force that drove "Up" into the skies and then into the ground.

He spins a piece of magical realism, a house propelled by balloons. This is the idea of Carl Fredricksen, who's inspired by Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a real crackerjack explorer that has seen South America and Paradise Falls. Fredricksen is a fanboy, and as he is going about his idolatry of his favorite adventurer, he meets a young girl also sharing his obsession named Ellie, who has a Cher-like set of hair and a possibly even more avid passion for Muntz. To make a long story short, the two get married, and dream of making it to Paradise Falls, but Ellie passes on and Carl (now played as an old man by Ed Asner in his Pixar debut) now becomes a recluse of sorts. Since as a young boy he made a promise to get eventually to South America, Carl vows to keep it true.

Just as he's about to be carted off to some cliche retirement home, he takes off with his house, using the balloons to keep him off the ground (they have a previous significance-Carl was a balloon vendor at a zoo). It's sort of like an Americanized, animated knockoff of "Danny Deckchair" which I doubt Bob Peterson ever saw or heard about. Anyways, literally like 90 seconds after he takes off, he's interrupted from his relaxation by boy scout wilderness explorer cliche animated youngling Russell (Jordan Nagai). He unfortunately makes the plot utterly predictable. The film's major plot point can be seen much before it's intended to. So, the two travelers make it to Paradise Falls but land on the other side. Fredricksen wants to be right on the edge of the falls, so the two begin a semi-epic journey through the tropical undergrowth and bump into two major characters: Kevin, some sort of bizarre, toucan-esque bird that makes a pretty funny call, and Dug (Peterson's voice), a collared, somewhat sadistic but overall amusing dog. Dug is trying to catch the bird, and bring it back to Muntz, who's been staking out in the jungle, searching for it all the time. Why? Because it signifies his legitimacy, since he originally brought back a skeleton and no one believed that he had found a new species.

I won't reveal much more, but just let you know that it all eventually dissolves into misguided chase scenes and underwhelming CGI animation, not unlike the special effects in the "Star Trek" film (sort of agreeing with Ebert, who has a distaste for big CGI and "Star Trek" but also loved this movie). Pixar, too focused on the little details, seems to forget that a film needs some sort of hook or point of interest besides little references and such. Fredricksen's quest to get from one side of Paradise Falls to the other is actually quite pointless, or at least it becomes pointless. It seems like some sort of vehicle to drive the film onwards. This shows all the more that the film is really, really rushed. Maybe it was to get it to Cannes where it would be the first animated film to open (as the Playlist said, "Inglourious Basterds" was the very same, so that's how I got this idea).

The editing is where the film most goes wrong. It might have been trying to mimic the 40's style (oh, right: the film's coy ideas of that decade are really quite cliche), but altogether it comes off really clipped. There is too much emphasis on the transitions (which grow extremely strained in the closing minutes) and not enough on less hyperkinetic cutting. As I've said before, the last 20 minutes make almost absolutely no sense and would be considered purely rushed if not for the sentimental hooks that are provided. It seems in the end that the whole structure is scrapped just for a couple of throwaway jokes and such. In the end, "Up" is the Pixar movie with the least amount of effort altogether. There were some nice details, but it still seems that Pixar is trying to tinker with success. C


Anonymous said...

I loved "Up." It was way better than Wall-E, in my opinion.
Judging from the animation, I'd hardly say the end effect was 'rushed.' If so, you could do better, perhaps? No offense. "Up" was more interested in story than Wall-E, a animation extravaganza which was entertaining but occasionally ponderous. I reccommend evryone go see "Up." It's an amazing kid movie, and ten times better than Transformers 2.

Nick Duval said...

You're right... I shouldn't be complaining about what I can't do. I'm not a CGI animation whiz. I was not judging from the animation effect when I remarked the end was "rushed." In fact, a lot of time was put in on the animation. It was the story I felt issue with. They went through the motions of a story and didn't take their time. As I remember, cliche after cliche (and after such a good beginning!). They need to make the writing and plotwork better and focus less on the little details.

"Wall-E" was more fixated on the aesthetics of filmmaking than the story, which is fine by me if their well-done (they were). If Pixar can play to it's strengths and build a movie around the details, than by all means they should.

"Up" had a good story, for once, but they seemed to forget about it after they picked up Russell and Dug and started to rely on their annoying tics to get laughs and distract from the plotting.

I would rather find people at "Up" than at "Transformers 2," I agree (even though I haven't seen the latter). It at least has some story and imagination, as opposed to none. The visuals are more stimulating, as well.

-- Nick

aspergiansarah said...

Yeah, I see you didn't even like the first "Transformers." Number 1 is okay (my brother loves it) but number 2 is much, much worse. I guess it's hard to make a movie that will appeal to both adults and kids, like with "Up." I actually thought Dug & Kevin were funny. Plus the whole thing was unabashedly emotional, which could put off some people. Though, mayhaps the reason I was snarky is that I envy you for not wasting 2 1/2 hours on your life on T2. I'm still recovering...

Literary Dreamer said...

I also loved "Up," though I do agree that the earlier animated sequence (from Charles and Ellie's first encounter--few filmmakers have captured camaraderie through children better--through the dialog-free section that culminates in her death) is the most inspired part of the movie, minus a later part that has to do with Ellie's scrapbook. "Wall-E" is another movie that has an excellent dialog-free sequence, but "Up" spoke to me on a more emotional level.

Nick Duval said...

I thought the image house lifting off was one of the most beautiful things that Pixar has ever done. They need to be more abstract to succeed. "Up" would have worked for me if it lived up to it's name. We don't need a villain, we don't need an annoying little sidekick, we don't need narrative tension really. We need ambience. "Wall-E"'s weakest part was the ending. Pixar loves to tie things up. But really, what they're good at doing is technical things. For example, Bob Parr's physique in "The Incredibles," the many doors in "Monsters, Inc.," or the incredible memory plot device in "Finding Nemo." If they stuck to the drawing board and only the drawing board, I'd be sold. But hey, they're trying to sell it to a wide audience, so if Lasseter and Jobs turned into the modern Tarkovsky, they'd get the can.

-- Nick

aspergiansarah said...

I guess "Up" can't appeal to everyone. But really, Pixar had a balancing act going trying to please kids (humor and animals,) animation aficinadoes (visuals,) and drama lovers (emotion.)

It must of been difficult attracting theater goers of all ages. Lots of kid movies don't even try anymore. Animotronic critters, some laughs, fart jokes- you've got a movie.

Just because a film is 'animated' doesn't mean it needs to focus all the effort on animation. Wall-E was beautiful... but at times the makers tried too hard to flaunt animation techniques and forgot story.

"Up" shows that an animated movie can be emotional and scenic, and that animation doesn't always need a 'style-over substance' manner.

That said, film is a visual medium, so style over subtance can also be a great asset. However, animated films have to try stretching barriers of animation.

Nick Duval said...

What I'm saying is that Pixar is not very good at substance, in my opinion, so they should stick to style, which they have down pretty well. If they took risks with their story (sort of what they were starting to do with "Up" before Russell appeared), then it could be really interesting. But while there's always something pretty good about every film, there's never been a definitively great film by them, since they are too worried about having a wide appeal. Yes, they are children's films, but hey, Miyazaki did it correctly with "Spirited Away," a visually stunning and also well-plotted film.

--- Nick

aspergiansarah said...

This is my last comment on "Up," so here goes...

,According to you, "Up" is badly plotted and 'relies on the sidekick's annoying tics to advance the story" (not a direct quote.) It is the first animated movie I have loved in a good long time.

It merges loneliness, grief and floating houses so seamlessly as to never mistep or condescend. Each time I leave the movie, I have a smile and teary eyes, something no Hayao M. movie has never achieved.

Please, if you disregard one review on Flick Pick Monster, let it be this one. This is a fantastic, moving film, and I'm not the type to tear up at "I Am Sam" or "Where the Heart Is." It is funny, creative, sad, gorgeous, and filled with amazing characters. What more do you want?

"Hey, I know a joke. The squirrel goes up to the tree and says' I didn't gather enough nuts for winter and now I am dead. Ha! It is funny because the squirrel gets dead."- Dug

Nick Duval said...

Here we go again. My most criticized review by far. This is what I thought of the movie, assembling all the Pixar perks into one package. You may love that, but I don't. I'm like Rodrigo Perez (The Playlist, who crowned "Spirited Away" atop his Top Animated Films of the Decade List): I think the movies are "overrated." But I'm in a hated minority. "Hayao M." is an admirable filmmaker (though since Ebert took a cut at his "floating house" movie I haven't been able to think about "Howl's Moving Castle" in the same way and should probably re-see it, and since I know a lot of Miyazaki fans who've suggested this, I probably will sometime). But hey, not everyone gets into every filmmaker. Same goes with me. That's pretty much all there is to it. If you're talking "Ponyo," BTW, I think I can agree, since that's Miyazaki's weakest film. But if you are taking a swipe at pretty much any of his other movies, I'll get as defensive as you have of "Up."

--- Nick

P.S. Caught the first hour and a half of Transformers 2. Not writing a full review. My friend thought it was better than the first since it was "trippier" and "more interesting". I agree in some respect, but the plot should have been scaled down a bit.