"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Saturday, April 3, 2010

UP (Pete Docter & Bob Peterson)



Pete Docter & Bob Peterson


Ed Asner

Christopher Plummer

Jordan Nagai

Bob Peterson

Delroy Lindo

96 min


Ageing is a topic of film that very rarely makes it out unscathed when trying to evoke without sentiment. Sometimes sentiment works but for the most part it muddies the reality of growing old and the sadness that accompanies many aspects of the very process of life that is with us from day one to our inevitable end. It tends to work beautifully in literature as the accompanying soundtrack is for the most part omitted and at the hands of a good writer the setting left to the devices of the reader.

Colm Tóibín, for example, writes hauntingly of the ageing process in The Heather Blazing and recent prize-winners such as Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Jim Crace’s Being Dead and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex all tackle the grief associated with getting older. Within each of these novels there is a distinct focus on the relationships that exist within one’s life and how those relationships develop and cope with both loss and the impending realisation that at some point all relationships end.

In recent times, film has struggled to adequately capture those particular moments of relationships, particularly long-lasting ones. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that relationships between older people are not deemed to be financially viable up on the big screen, however, it would seem that in a bizarre situation, Disney, the very root of all things sentimental and wholesome, has turned around and given the biggest middle finger salute to the industry in a long time. For what lies at the heart of their latest release, Up, is a story of just that – getting older.

Ellie and Carl are a couple of misfit kids living and breathing the air that is the current childhood obsession when they first meet as budding adventurers. Through a montage that lasts about twenty minutes we then see them as their relationship develops through excruciating times of sadness and significant times of bewildering joy. This section of the film is reason enough to see Up. It’s the best filmmaking Disney/Pixar have ever produced and it shows just how animated films can be a relevant and adult form of entertainment without being kiddie or cloying. A lifetime is depicted here with such care and grace that by the time we find Carl as a seventy-eight-year old endeavouring to uphold a lifelong promise to complete that adventure, the audience could pretty much let Docter and his team do whatever they want and still be satisfied. Well, almost.

Because whilst there is a distinct reality to the early parts of Up, there is an inherent silliness and downright lack of credibility to its second half, which significantly damages the film as a whole. How so much care can be taken in developing a beautiful relationship in the film’s first quarter and then undermined by the creation of an obese tween, talking dogs, invented birds and a mad-hatter-like villain is slightly incomprehensible. It’s not that the film ends up being bad – it is easily one of the better releases of the year – it’s just that for a film that promised so much it falls dismally short of its initial projected finish.

The whimsy of Carl’s adventure could quite easily have been pulled off as in reality we did see that priest fly off on his chair, however, it’s as if the filmmakers realised that what was going to make them money was the presence of kids and they added in copious amounts of the sugar-sweet to ensure that that would happen. Sure the sweetness works in part – you only need to stay til the film’s conclusion to see what happens to the house to note that – but it’s particularly obvious due to it being preceded by such honest and brilliant filmmaking.

In the end it could be argued that Carl is a curmudgeonly old so-and-so and Russell an annoying brat, but that would be to forget all the good of the piece and there is a significant amount of all that present. As Ellie thanked Carl for the adventure and encouraged him to go and have one of his own, we have to thank her for inspiring him to. Up is lovely and tender but just shy of a masterpiece.

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