(Judge Dredd Megazine, Rebellion)
Up is a 3D CGI Pixar animation by Pete Docter, who previously helmed the studio’s Monsters Inc. (2001). There’s an obvious analogy between Docter’s two films, in that they both have an adult-child odd couple (well, we can presume that the cuddly Sulley in Monsters Inc. is a grown-up, though maybe monster years are like dog years and he’s only four or something). However, Up is otherwise very different, a quirky mix of Spielbergian adventure, funny animals, and the central character of a cranky old man mourning his wife. Yes, Pixar not only takes on ageing but bereavement as well; a bit like the Jack Nicholson tragicomedy About Schmidt, except with a flying house, talking animals and a tropical backdrop. (And without, thank heaven, a naked Kathy Bates.)
Up’s backstory is that Carl and his late wife, Ellie, dreamed of adventuring to the flat-topped table-mountains in South America, following the trail of their pioneering hero Charles F. Muntz, who claimed to have found fabulous beasts. There’s a nod to Conan Doyle’s dinosaur classic The Lost World, which had a South American setting, but anyone wanting CGI T-Rexes should try another film. Following Ellie’s death, the morose Carl is being badgered to move house, which he does in spectacular fashion; he ties the house to hundreds of balloons and lifts it aloft. Carl’s destination is South America, but he’s not reckoned with an accidental passenger – a chubby little boy scout called Russell, who’s determined to Help the Aged.
The mainstream media’s love-in with Pixar shows no abating, and Up has had rave reviews to rival those Walt Disney enjoyed in his greatest years (Snow White to Bambi). I love Pixar, but Up was one time when I found myself agreeing with the heretics grumbling about rose-tinted 3D glasses. The film is touching and funny; the problem is the two sides don’t mesh comfortably, with a story too whimsical and scattershot to support the grown-up bits. Carl and Russell reach South America and find lots of funny animals (dogs with talking collars, a fast-squawking big bird), plus a human villain (Christopher Plummer) However, the newcomers feel more suited to a Wallace and Gromit cartoon than to a film front-loaded with challenging themes.
Pixar does a fine job in getting us to fall in love with the grumpy Carl (rather than with the cute kid, which would have been easy enough). The oldster is the subject of two outstanding tearjerker sequences at the beginning and end of the film, both concerning what Carl belatedly comes to see was his wonderful life. I’d recommend Up for those moments alone, and there’s plenty to enjoy elsewhere, but the film is well below Pixar’s best – Wall-E, say, or The Incredibles.
(c) 2018 Rebellion A/S. Reprinted with permission.