Pixar has done it again! I just saw Up, and it was great. The film was colorful, funny, bittersweet, and entertaining. The characters were wonderfully crafted; you can't help but love the character of Carl from the very beginning, Russell is energetic and funny, Muntz is a decent villain, and Dug the Dog is hilarious and lovable. The movie definitely stayed true to Walt Disney's famous saying (and what I think is John Lasseter's favorite saying): "For every laugh there should be a tear".
(Starting here, beware of minor spoilers. If you want to avoid the spoilers or read a slightly less lengthy version of my review, just read the bold statements).
The film opens with an old-fashioned news reel (The Incredibles, anyone?) showing the history of Charles Muntz to the excitement of an 8-year-old Carl who is a fan of the famous explorer. The heart-warming begins when we meet Ellie, another Muntz-fanatic. My favorite sequence of the movie is the silent (except for Giacchino's beautiful and brilliant score) montage of Carl and Ellie's life, showing their marriage, their fixing of the house, their discovery that they will be unable to have children, the promise of Carl to fulfill Ellie's dream of moving to South America, and ultimately the death of Ellie. That sequence is definitely my favorite out of any movie I've ever seen. It is the epitome of film-making and storytelling. It was funny, sad, heartfelt, perfectly scored, and managed to fit a lifetime of emotion and character development into a very short amount of time. Simply beautiful. This sequence was packed so full of humor, sadness, and heart, that it was totally staggering.
The character of Carl was my favorite; the staggering transformations he goes through as a person are truly life-changing for me and I am sure they for the audience. His character development was flawless. But, let me start with Carl's appearance. His shock of white hair, square head and glasses, classic bowtie, snappy suit and suspenders, and shirt height make him the epitome of old guys. He looks grumpy, but, after getting to know him, you realize that he just looks sad and pessimistic after his heart-breaking life experiences. His constant repetition of calling his house "Ellie", looking through her Adventure Book, and repeating the phrase "I cross my heart" (which is what he did on several occasions to Ellie when promising they'd move to Paradise Falls in South America one day) brings a tear to your eye every single time one of these events happen, and they happen about every 5 or 10 minutes in Up. His lovable grumpiness and constant reminder to the audience of his grief makes him a fantastically complex and endearing character which the audience roots for every step of the way.
Russell is the over-excited, typical 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer who accidentally gets taken with Carl on his wild adventure. He is very funny with his constant nagging, his bragging of and apparent lack of Wilderness Explorer skills, and his attitudes which drastically contrast with those of Carl. Russell's back story also makes him a very lovable character that you find yourself cheering for throughout the movie. Even though Russell, at first, seems to be annoying, he then becomes adorable and sympathetic when you discover the lack of decent parents, and the heartbreak that he has felt at such a young age. Russell is the most relatable character, especially to kids, and he is very likable.
The villain of the film, Charles Muntz, is the weakest character if you ask me. His motivations are slightly vague and aren't completely solid, but he is still a decent character. He is not even a villain compared to Sid or Randall, Hopper or Syndrome, but he is a sufficient device used by the plot of Up. I like villains to be more evil, but he was only a minor villain compared to Carl's and Russell's other problems they had in their lives before meeting the old explorer (who would be, what, 97 years old?). Charles Muntz is more of one obstacle out of many than a true villain, but is still an effective character of Up.
The incidental characters of Up are some of my favorite that have come out of Pixar (but they still haven't managed to top Rex, Heimlich, or Mater yet). Dug the dog is utterly hysterical. He is one of the many, many dogs of Muntz, but he is the underdog, if you will (no pun untended). He is bullied by the other dogs and is too weak to be a decent henchman (er, dog) of Muntz compared to the rottweilers and bulldogs, but he is so unbelievably lovable! He joins the side of Carl and Russell after they are much nicer to him than Muntz had ever been. All of the dogs in Up, can speak using collars given to them by Charles. One of the interesting things about their ability to talk, is that their mouths don't move when they speak, which is a very intriguing thing to watch after being so used to seeing mouths move when they speak. The fact that the dogs can speak, however, is the funniest part of the whole movie. Alpha, Gamma, and Beta are also very entertaining, especially when the toughest dog's (Alpha's) voice malfunctions and gets very high-pitched. Pixar just gets the attitudes of dogs so perfectly by making them talk very formally, but about squirrels and fetching balls and snacks. all very excitedly. The humor related to the dogs and what they say is truly genius; I hardly find myself laughing out loud while watching films, but Up provided me with laugh after laugh after laugh, mostly due to Muntz's unconventional, fumbling, slobbery minions.
Kevin the Bird was also a great character. He was the 'MacGuffin' of the film (or, rather, the object that everybody was after). But his uncanny likeness to a real bird was amazing, and I think that the colorful bird, Kevin, who couldn't speak at all, had more character development devoted to it than any character that has come out of DreamWorks Animation.
One of the most astounding components of Up was its animation. The animation of Up was exquisite and completely gorgeous. From the realistic wetness of balloons in a rainstorm, to the vibrant colors of a house in the sky, Up's animation was jaw-dropping. Seeing the thousands of colorful balloons was especially visually wonderful; the balloons move and act extremely realistically. I also really like the animation of Carl since he walks exactly like elderly folks do. Also, the animation of Kevin reminded me a lot of the Road Runner from classic Looney Tunes, which isn't a bad thing at all. The animation of Up is another triumph for the brilliant folks at Pixar who keep getting better and better behind their computers and their sketchpads.
The music of Up is outstanding and timeless. Giacchino's score adds more dimension to the film than plastic glasses could ever hope to. The music of Up was absolutely beautiful. I particularly love the music of the first sequence of the film during the montage of Carl and Ellie's life, which is then continued in different octaves and ways for the rest of the movie, reminding you of Carl's past happiness and current heartache. Michael Giacchino's score of Up is my favorite from any Pixar movie so far (although I think I may like the song during the credits of Monsters, Inc., 'I Wouldn't have Nothin' If I Didn't Have You', and Randy Newman's score for Toy Story a teensy bit more).
My favorite aspect of Up is the total and complete character transformation of both Carl and Russell. At the beginning of the film, Carl is bitter, resentful, pessimistic, lacking somebody to love and care for, and preoccupied with thoughts of the past; he just won't let Ellie go. Russell is unsure of himself, bumbling, and lacking a father figure in his life. At the end of the film, however, the adventure of our heroes has drastically changed their situations and attitudes. Carl is confident, happy, optimistic, and has found a son in Russell; he has let go of Ellie, not to mean he doesn't care for her anymore, he just doesn't let his grief for her take his entire being over for the rest of his days. Russell is also more confident and happy, he has found a father figure in Carl (with whom he does things he did with his father, like count cars outside of the ice cream shop, who isn't there for Russell anymore).
Although I feel that Muntz's falling to his death was a little bit cliche, as was ending with the house perched next to Paradise Falls, I believe that these images did fit the overall themes and ideas presented throughout Up, so I suppose they were appropriate, but not completely necessary. The house sitting on the cliff at the end was predictable, but was also very nice and sentimental now that I think about it; it lets you leave the theater with one last tear lingering in your eye.
Up is yet another masterpiece to come out of Emeryville. It is full of action, adventure, heartache, romance, humor galore, stunning animation, tremendous characters, a flawless score, and, most of all, a great story. Up is exactly what you'd expect from Emeryville, tons of laughs and tons of tears, and even more. It is easily my second favorite film to come out of Pixar, my first being Monsters, Inc. I urge you not to take this new golden age of animation for granted. Yes, Pixar is wonderful and has a 10 film streak going, but I have noticed that almost everybody (including me) is beginning to expect the best from Pixar. And, even though they deliver for every single film, I still don't think we should expect so much from them, and take their glorious films for granted. Feel lucky, as I do, that we get to see their perfect films.
But then, there's Partly Cloudy. I only have one thing to say about Pixar's latest short: Worst Pixar Short Ever. Sure, it was funny, it had a decent premise (in a world where clouds create babies of every creature, our main character is the cloud that gets stuck making the vicious and harmful animals), but there was no story. The whole short was simply set-up. Partly Cloudy opens by visually describing the way that this version of the world works by showing the storks who deliver the babies and the clouds who create them, and then they introduce our lonely cloud and show the kinds of animals he gets stuck creating. Then it ends. It just ends right there! All conflict with hardly any resolution. It doesn't have anything near the satisfying or ironic endings of Knick Knack, For the Birds, or Geri's Game. The scenes where our main cloud creates the animals and gives them to his gawky partner-stork are hilarious, but you don't care about any of the characters! Like I said, all of Partly Cloudy was set-up: no story arch, and only character development. Partly Cloudy was basically a film that only showed you this disgruntled cloud inadvertently harming his stork-friend. Especially after the gloriously great short of last year, Presto, I am very disappointed with Partly Cloudy. It seemed more like a preview, or the first half of a short, but it certainly didn't have enough of anything (except maybe humor) to support itself as a 'film'. Partly Cloudy, sadly, was a major letdown. I really tried to like it, and I even discussed it with a bunch of other Pixar fanatics, but we all came to the same, disappointing conclusion: gorgeous animation, great premise, hilarious gags, but just not enough to make it a satisfying short. In fact, and I am sorry to say this, but Partly Cloudy is the very first thing to come out of Pixar Animation Studios that I haven't given a 10 out of 10 and been absolutely exstatic about; very disappointing.
Update: I have just gone to a showing of several student films, some of which were animated shorts. And, I have to tell you, I have a newfound appreciation for and all of Pixar. I think that I was a little bit harsh on Pixar's newest short since I was simply comparing it to Pixar's past shorts, all of which were absolutely fantastic. Partly Cloudy is still Pixar's worst short ever, but it is also one of the best animated short films out there if you excluse all of Pixar's other short films. And, once again, if you feel you're taking Pixar for granted, just go to the student film festival I went to . . . Anyways, Partly Cloudy was still disappointing since I was expecting so much from Pixar, but, if you see it with average expectations, you shouldn't be too disappointed. (Just pretend that DreamWorks made it, that'll help you to think it is better than I do.)
But don't start marching on Emeryville just yet, the greatness of Up certainly made up for its inadequate short film, and I cannot wait to see the sure-to-be-outstanding 11th feature to come out of Pixar: Toy Story 3.
As you may have guessed, I give Up the same rating as all of the other Pixar films: 10 out of 10.