Up – Film Review

Adventure of LifetimeWhat is the definition of story? My answer is “conflict.” Great stories unfold against a backdrop of tension and combine reality and fantasy. Pixar Animation Studios has mastered this formula for kids and grown-ups alike. Their latest work, Up, tracks the life of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) from the time he was a little boy watching newsreel footage of an explorer he idolized, through his marriage with Ellie (Ellie Docter), and finally on to his life’s adventure of visiting a lost world.

They makers of Up borrowed a very effective device from Wall-E by taking us through a significant portion of the story without dialogue. In Up it was a more straightforward, Hollywood style approach meant to define Carl’s character and show us the arc of his life. He had great dreams of adventure, but acted on them much later than he had planned.

Carl has held onto his home which is now in the center of a high-rise construction site. He won’t give it up, but when circumstances force him to leave, he uses his experience as a balloon salesman to inflate thousands of them with helium and levitate his home high in the air. It’s South America or bust. All is going well until a young scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai), looking for one final merit badge, has stowed away and is now on the same journey.

The usual challenges arise along the way, but also some unexpected ones. Talking dogs, an exotic bird and finally, a nail-biting, unplanned battle that Carl is forced to fight in order to do what’s right as well as accomplish his life long dream.

CarlPixar pulls on the heartstrings but immediately lets them go with wonderful moments of humor for the parents as well as the kids. It’s full of clever dialogue. Director Pete Docter and co-director Bob Peterson are clearly in command, setting a brisk pace and giving us lots to look at along the way. They weave it all together in predictable ways, but do it so cleverly that you don’t mind not being blown away with some stock turn of events. It’s high adventure, and probably the most grown up story Pixar has turned out yet. Many of their films deal with inevitable events like death, but this one puts people in the center of the story. Wall-E had people, but come on, is that where mankind is going? I didn’t buy it. Up makes it “human real” and immediately relatable for young and old alike. In my view it could be the beginning of a new framework for Pixar. But there is so much pressure to produce box office, they will likely be forced to pursue whatever they think will sell tickets. I understand. We’ll see.

I viewed this film in 3D and really didn’t find it more interesting or exciting. They don’t over trick the viewer, but I found the experience to be not as big or bright as a regular 35MM print, and many of the 3D effects blended into my brain over time. I actually wish I had not seen it in 3D. I’ll be watching with interest to see if 3D is a phase or the future. I explore this further in an earlier post here.

I enthusiastically recommend this picture for all. Providing they are ready for PG films. The official Up web site is full of fun and energy. Be sure and visit here.

WALL-E – Film Review

WALL•E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is a friendly and extremely efficient robot that spends his days trying to tidy up a major mess left by the human inhabitants of earth. It seems that the Big-N-Large conglomerate, which owned everything and is the epitome of commercialism, made some mistakes along the way. Earth can no longer support life and so the company built space ships that would allow earthlings to cruise the universe until earth could support life once again.

WALL•E is sensitive and collects common items like lighters, light bulbs and kitchen utensils. He has set up an elaborate sorting system in a trailer and at the end of each day, puts them carefully in their place. WALL•E is a robot so you wouldn’t expect him to have emotions. But he is lonely and this is made even more pronounced as he watches the movie Hello Dolly on VHS day after day.

One day a robot piloted space ship lands in WALL•E’s backyard. Out comes a sleek and sexy model that we soon find out is named EVE. She is there on a routine mission to look for any signs of life on earth. WALL•E falls for EVE and tries to romance her with dancing and holding her hand. He shows her a living plant that he found during one of his clean-ups and she immediately whisks it back to the Big-N-Large command space ship, the Axiom.

WALL•E does not want to lose EVE so he clamps onto the ship and rides it to the Axiom, which is… well, it’s a nightmare. For over 700 years the Axiom has been traversing the universe, run by robots. It’s full of humans that have been brainwashed into the Big-N-Large cult and are unable to think or feel. Finally the humans regain their mettle and take back the ship, and eventually their pride and place as homo sapiens.

Pixar and writer/director Andrew Stanton have created another stunning showcase for their technology storytelling. It’s rich in detail and packed with the clever twists and humor we have come to expect from their productions. Having man and machine switch emotional roles was a brilliant device. The film reaches for ambitious themes of relationship, individualism and the importance of a working society, but falls short. The challenge of trying to convey these ideas without dialogue was perhaps too tall an order, as the film’s heavy lifting is left solely to visuals and sound.

There are enough things going on in WALL•E to keep your eyes and ears interested, but your mind will find a way to allow your day to day life leak in. At the very least films should be escapism, at their best they push us to think and re-evaluate our lives, our politics, even our future. Unfortunately WALL•E doesn’t do either. There was much I enjoyed, but Pixar has set the bar very high, and WALL•E didn’t make it.

Visit the official WALL•E site, which is way cool.

Photo Credits: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar