Up grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go (to clarify, I mean the Pixar movie Up, not the Russ Meyer version which grabs another part of the anatomy). From the dazzling short that opnened up the proceedings at the theater where I got to see it, to the remarkable opening sequence to the sight of a house being held aloft by myriads upon myriads of balloons, Up is a throwback of sorts to the “big movies” of the past, the sort of thing that is the best of what Hollywood has to offer.
While the common lament of how Rob Schneider gets movies green-lit when so many smaller slice of life pictures in the In the Bedroom ilk are left to rot in distribution is true, that is not the only sadness of modern movies. I mean, sure, these sorts of films need distribution, but what about the movies that Hollywood do make? There is slasher porn, movies based on crappy TV programs, toilet comedies. But really, how many truly rich moviegoing experiences does Hollywood produce these days?
Pixar has succeeded completely on this level – even before the movie starts. In the tradition of old time movies, the show started with a dazzling short “Partly Cloudy”. Aside from perpetuating a myth about precisely where babies come from, it is beautifully animated, funny, cheeky, and just impossibly cute. And then, the movie starts.
I am pretty sure that when the American Film Institute does its requisite specials in 2099 about the second century of film, the prologue that begins Up will be prominently featured – in its own way it should be as iconic as Pinochhio’s famous discovery. It depicts a boy and little girl who discover a shared love of adventure, and the adventurer Charles Muntz. The couple will fall in love, get married and she will pass away – leaving Carl (the old man) alone with a house full of memories and sadness. This is all done without dialogue, and if it does not move you, well I guess I am a marshmallow.
We pick up with Carl as he sits in his house alone, and not sure what to do with his life. He is encouraged to go to a seniors’ home (in fact, a bit more than encouraged), but finally decides to visit Paradise Falls, in South America, where he and his wife had set out to live. How he finally decides to travel there is a flight of fancy that is also a wonder, and certainly homage for anybody who has seen Fitzcarraldo (go figure – Herzog in Pixar?).
While traveling, Carl discovers a stowaway, a boy scout named Russell (who seems Asian-American looking), an earnest 8 year old who is having trouble at home, although in the convention of these sorts of movies, the old man is unmoved at first. Really, the plot itself is not particularly original. What is original, is the villain, the villain’s ship and indeed the villain’s henchmen, who are really, really, really funny. But undercutting the entire movie, all the jovial moments, is the depth of Carl’s love for his wife and her memory – in fact, the movie plays the music under the prologue throughout – provides poignancy that you just don’t see. Up is a great experience – I cannot imagine having a fuller experience with a mainstream American movie.