Sunday, 11 October 2009

Up (U)

When it comes to reviewing Pixar, the only change worth mentioning is the title of their films. This is not to say that Pixar is predictable, simply that the quality of their output is so consistent one struggles to avoid repeating what has already been said a thousand times before. The animation, the humour, the emotion; these are now practically institutionalised facets of the Pixar formula and with their tenth effort have produced one of their best films yet.

Let’s be clear; Up is good. Very good. Within the first five minutes alone, director Pete Docter delivers such a powerful emotional sucker-punch that the opening scene of Finding Nemo (2003) positively pales in comparison. Two dried eyes later and we’re off on our adventure with Carl Fredricksen, Pixar’s most complex and engaging lead since Woody. Accompanied by the extremely likeable Russel providing the inevitable yin to Carl’s yang, the recurrent mismatched buddies routine of Toy Story et al is handled with supreme finesse. Special credit must go to writer Bob Peterson especially, who expertly balances humour alongside their eventual friendship.

Once into the second act, the drama is ratcheted up significantly with the introduction of adorable Disneyesque sidekicks Kevin the female bird and Dug, a talking dog whose antics provide many of the films funniest moments. One minor disappointment is the villain of the piece, Charles Muntz, whose arrival comes far too late to impose a significant threat. Of course, Shere Kahn arrives two thirds of the way through The Jungle Book (1967) but whereas Disney has developed a penchant for crafting appealing villains, Pixar’s appear two dimensional, arbitrary even. As it stands however, Up is not a film reliant on a villain and the lack of one therefore is of no great loss. Of far greater importance is Carl’s journey from curmudgeonly old widower to a selfless friend at peace with his wife’s death.

At times Up risks losing sight of the crux of the story, particularly in the deftly handled action scenes, but thankfully Docter never drops sight of Carl’s personal struggle. In fact, despite its epic scale, Up is surprisingly intimate with the brilliant Michael Giacchino orchestrating a simple but sweet score to accompany the incredible visuals. And they are incredible. The dazzlingly bright colours are truly stunning to behold and the image of a thousand multicoloured balloons evokes a sense of magic nd wonderment rarely found in cinema these days. Particularly impressive are the 3D effects which like the recent re-release of Toy Story showcase a far more understated use of the technology and with it add a phenomenal depth of field to the beautifully designed South American backgrounds.

There seems little purpose in dissecting the animation which is predictably awe-inspiring as it combines the squash and stretch plasticity of Ratatouille (2007) with the more subtle nuances of Wall-E (2008) to create a visual tour de force far greater than Docter’s last effort, Monster’s Inc (2001).

With perfect pacing, exciting characters, an extraordinary emotional depth and potentially the finest closing shot of all time, Up showcases storytelling at its very best.


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