Pixar is one of the greatest film studios presently in operation. They are a studio with a consistent vision and a strong distaste for making the same film twice. Above all, they don’t just make great animation, they almost always make great films. Pixar is a studio captained by people with a deep respect for every aspect of their craft, and they have impressed once again with Up, which finally sees release in Australia this month.
Carl Fredricksen, in his youth, was in love with the idea of adventure. He met a like minded girl, Ellie, and they eventually married. Unfortunately, life got in the way and they never managed to reach Paradise Falls. In later life, with Ellie passed on, Carl decides to live out their shared dream by launching his house in the direction of South America (“it’s like America, but South!”) via thousands of helium balloons.
With a healthy disregard for the laws of physics, Up somehow feels like the most fanciful entry in Pixar’s oeuvre, which is saying something for a studio that has produced works about living toys, business monsters, talking cars and rat chefs. My feelings for the movie aren’t mixed, but the movie itself is: at once it’s blazingly original and charmingly old fashioned. Much fuss was made, in the early days, that Up would not do well at the box office because it doesn’t have a merchandisable lead: a 78 year old man is not the first thing that one thinks of when one thinks of toys. Compare this with the frankly lacklustre Cars which, while a pet project of John Lassiter’s, was a perfect fit for selling commercial dreams to children.
Funny thing about children is that, while they’re not 78 year men, they do tend to like colourful birds, excitable wilderness scouts and talking dogs. Up is never a cynical grab for money, remaining dedicated to a golden hearted if careworn old man and the little boy whom he is forced to look after. While the inclusion of talking dogs and charming animals seems a throwback to the animation days of yore, it does not feel forced in any way. To complain about an army of dogs when they’re represented in so funny a way would be petty and foolish.
More than anything else, more even than the spirit of adventure (which is not even subtly introduced as a theme, it’s the name of a dirigible), Up is a movie about sentimentality: about an old man who loved his wife and was devoted to her for the entirety of their life together. This is probably the most tear jerking movie that Pixar has ever released. I am saying this as a person who is infamous for having cried during The Incredibles, but I produced the most honest tears, tears that I could not fight or control, watching Up. The themes of love and what constitutes an adventure are presented in a gentle way that would not upset a child but may well make them sad and contemplative. Up is never mired in the loss of Ellie, but naturally utilises it as an important motivator.
There is so much metaphor of baggage and what is actually meaningful in life – more supertext than sub – and all of it is conveyed so emotionally. Artefacts are important, but more important are the “boring things we remember the most”. It’s a valuable message, and delivered in a fashion that one can conceivably ignore, if they so choose, in favour of literal dog fights around a blimp. I don’t think that Pixar is a studio that aims for the edification of its audiences so much as it aims for telling interesting stories containing characters that will eventually mean something to everyone, regardless of age.
Other studios are now making acceptable computer animated fare (note: Shrek never has been and never will be acceptable fare in any guise), but for the foreseeable future Pixar shall reign supreme. A movie with heart, story and characters that is also slightly ridiculous (and deliberately so), Up is an absolutely essential film.