A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 561 – Up

Up – September 12th, 2011

Andy and I went to see this one in the theater when it came out. And I had been warned. I was told beforehand, by multiple people that not only would it make me cry, it would make me cry within the first twenty minutes. And they were right. This movie is explicitly built to tug – hard – at your heartstrings. And unlike, say, the Toy Story movies, it doesn’t wait for the climax or the ending to do it. Nope. It starts out with a gut punch before it lets you start enjoying yourself. I was warned. I brought tissues. And I needed them. The thing is, the nature of the story makes it more likely to make an impact on adults than children. I can see kids getting that it’s sad, but really, it’s adults who’ll feel like the movie is out to get their delicious salty tears. I swear, Pixar runs on them. Like Tyra Banks.

There are two stories in this movie, telling a larger story. There’s the majority of the movie, which is the story of an elderly man named Carl and a young boy named Russell and their adventure together in South America, where they find a rare bird and meet an adventurer who wants to capture it. And then there’s the story of Carl and his wife, Ellie, and their life together. Really, the story is all Carl’s. He’s the link between the two. And to be honest, I love that. I love that this movie spends so much time on his character. The grumpy old man is a movie staple but rarely do you get to see where that grumpy old man came from. It’s like they’re hatched, full grown, dug up from the earth like Uruk-hai with walkers and dentures and gout.

I remember when we saw the notes Andy’s uncles sent us about working on the Ewok movie they mentioned that George Lucas had just watched Heidi with his daughter and liked the idea of a gruff old man with a child, so that’s what they went with for the movie. The thing about those movies is that they focus on the kid. They leave out the question of why the old man is so grouchy and consequently they leave out the answer too. But those old folks are people who were young once. And while I know plenty of grumpy young people, there are always reasons. In Carl’s case, he’s lost his wife. The entire first quarter of the movie is devoted to showing how Carl and Ellie met as kids, discovered their mutual love of adventure, got married, worked near each other, bought a house and made a life together. They wanted children, but Ellie found she couldn’t have any, and even as a happily childless woman, that’s a heartrending scene. But they forge on, making their lives full in other ways. They try to save up for a trip, but the money always seems to be needed elsewhere. Until Carl realizes they’ve grown old and purchases two tours of South America. Which they never use, because Ellie falls ill and dies. And Carl retreats, the tickets unused and left on the mantle with his and Ellie’s collected treasures. And that is the beginning of the movie.

See what I mean? Punch in the gut! And the thing is, if you paid any attention whatsoever to the ads and marketing for the movie, you know Carl is in the rest but Ellie is nowhere to be seen. When they couldn’t have kids? When they grew old together? I knew where it was headed. It makes it all the worse, knowing. Just writing the summary made me choke up, and I was writing it on a bus, in public, without the movie actually playing. It’s a good thing Pixar is making kids movies. If they turned their hands towards world domination through emotional manipulation they’d be ruling us all in as long as it takes to put a movie like this together. It’s not terribly hard to make me cry, granted, but Pixar seems to be able to turn on the tears for almost everyone I know. Interestingly, this movie gets the tears out of the way before the main plot starts. There are some emotional moments later, but it’s not on the same level as the beginning and there’s plenty of fun to be had in the main plot too.

To escape having to move into a nursing home, Carl lifts his house up off its foundation with a huge bunch of helium balloons and takes off for South America. It’s a wonderfully fantastical scene, with the balloons popping up out of the chimney and Carl blowing a raspberry at the two nursing home attendants who’d come to get him. And if this were only Carl’s story, then he’d be on his way. But it turns out that a local Wilderness Explorer, Russell, has accidentally joined him. Russell had only wanted to help Carl out and earn his Assisting the Elderly badge. Now he’s in a flying house on his way to South America. And when they get there, it’s Russell’s enthusiasm that gets them in trouble, but also what gives Carl more purpose than he’s had in years.

While trying to float the house from one end of a gorge to another Russell and Carl encounter a large bird and a talking dog. And let me say, I am unashamedly in love with Doug the dog. He has a special collar, made for him by his owner, that lets him talk. And he loves Russell and Carl. He loves them so much. Turns out his owner is Charles Muntz, a famous explorer who was disgraced when he claimed he’d found a previously unknown bird but had no proof. And he’s been in South America ever since, camped out in his zeppelin with his dogs, looking for the bird. The same breed of bird who is now following Carl and Russell. From there you can likely figure out the basic plot. Carl and Russell have to protect the bird from Muntz. Carl has to deal with his childhood hero being a total evil jackass. Russell goes off on his own to try and save the bird and Carl has to follow them. And in doing so he has to say goodbye to his house and, at the same time, Ellie.

Now, I’m not really one for “a child teaches a grouchy old person the true meaning of life” type plots, because really? You have to spend time around kids to lead a meaningful life? But in this case I think it works and it works for a couple of reasons. First, Carl isn’t just some old coot. He’s got a character and he’s got a background. This is a man who did enjoy life. He enjoyed life for decades and he did so without a child. It’s not the age of the person that matters here, it’s the attitude of wanting adventure and seeing new things. And that is certainly not a quality that’s limited to kids. It also works because we can see that Carl isn’t necessarily changing as a person. Instead he’s coming out of a long depression. And finally, it’s not Russell on his own. Sure, he’s a great character and he’s instrumental in it all, but it’s also Doug and the bird and the realization that Carl’s childhood hero isn’t who he thought he was. It’s the adventure that gives Carl the true meaning of things. And since this is Carl’s story and Carl’s adventure (and you can’t convince me otherwise) that’s the way it should be.

September 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Up

September 12, 2011

Up

Oh, Pixar. How you love to make me cry.

I suppose there are plenty of movies about irascible and lonely old men, but most of them don’t go to such lengths to explain how he became so lonely. The opening of this movie shows our hero Karl as a young boy and how he meets his wife to be. Then – mostly in simple pantomime with a brilliantly simple but touching score – it shows highlights of their entire life together. It shows their marriage, their plans to adventure abroad often foiled by the usual events of real life, their inability to have children. Eventually they grow old together, never having been able to travel abroad as they had wished in their youth, and when Ellie dies it leaves Karl all by himself in the house they lived their entire lives in.

It’s one of the most heart-rendingly touching scenes ever committed to film, and it’s the opening to a children’s movie. This starting sequence is the reason that I now do not go to see a Pixar film in the theater without tissues in my pocket (a policy I was glad of when we went to Toys Story 3.)

You need this scene here, too, to make Karl a sympathetic character. As an old man he’s bitter and angry. He’s being pressured by a sleazy real estate developer to sell his house so it can be demolished to make way for a new high-rise building, and when it seems like he’s going to lose the home he instead opts to strap thousands of balloons to it and float it to South America. His behaviors and attitude would seem irrational and incomprehensible if you didn’t know already about Ellie and their life together.

Of course this movie is no all poignancy and meditations on lost opportunities and lost loves. It is, after all, a children’s animated movie. It features a disarmingly optimistic foil for Karl in his stowaway sidekick the young scout Russell. There’s also a loony cartoon bird and lots of talking dogs (given voices by a translator box on their collars. Indeed the movie’s very tenderness makes these more comedic elements that much more precious.

As is so often the case this movie wonderfully illustrates the brilliance of the geniuses at Pixar. Pete Docter understands how to use his medium to get inside his viewers. This is effective storytelling, plain and simple. I feel drained after watching it because it’s so emotionally taxing (and how many kid’s movies can I say that about) but it’s a good kind of emotional trip. Validating and affirming.

We have been somewhat avoiding watching this movie for a while now because I knew how taxing it would be. Although we wept through most of the film I have to say that in the end I’m delighted to have this in our collection. My one regret is that after having seen it twice in the theater in 3-D I have been unable to get it in 3-D Blu-Ray. Not that the 3-D effects are essential to watching the movie – it just ads a little bit to the experience that I miss now.

September 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment