Up Review: Head In The Clouds

UP: On General Release From Friday 9th October 2009

Pixar set the bar ridiculously high last year with their magnificent robo-romance WALL-E, justly garnering praise left and right for their innovative approach to directing animated features.

It seems that they’ve managed to sustain their high standards with this year’s Up in glorious, eye-popping 3D.

Carl Fredricksen is a grumpy, balloon selling septuagenarian who, after losing his wife, decides that he wants to go on an adventure to the place they both dreamed of: South America. His dream is to have a house on top of Paradise Falls and with property developers closing in on him, he decides that he’ll just take his own with him.

Using thousands of balloons, Carl flies the house down to South America with accidental stowaway, Russell.

Directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson’s vision of a dreamlike journey into paradise is wonderful to watch, full of the fluid animation style we’ve come to expect from Pixar movies. No facial movement and no stray hair blows in the breeze without their say so, which makes every frame feel like it’s truly loved.

The textures of animated films can be tricky but of course Pixar have nailed it. Skins, materials and fur are utterly lifelike and give the characters believable dimensions, and the way they animate subtle elements like light and dust adds so much more than what we’d get in a film like Shrek.

Ed Asner and Jordan Nagai who voice Carl and Russell respectively bring warmth and heart to the roles and watching their friendship grow is touching but fun and full of giggles.

But the best connection comes from Carl and his deceased wife Ellie.

There’s a beautiful montage depicting their
married life together which is almost guaranteed to have you in tears.

It’s a great example of how emotional animation can be and of filmmaking in general.

While South America looks beautiful, it is a relatively unexplored part of the world and it feels like the directors missed an opportunity to create a whole new world. The landscapes lack emotion and, in all honesty, are a little disappointing.

But at least the story borders on the fantastical: when Carl and Russell land the house in South America they soon encounter a giant bird that Russel names Kevin, and Doug the dog who can talk through a translating dog collar.

Where would a dog get a translating collar from, you ask? From it’s master, famed explorer and Carl’s childhood hero, Charles Muntz, who’s been in Paradise Falls for years looking for Kevin.

The action sequences are a lot of fun and the animators out-do themselves with 78-year old Carl. There are a few good laughs as Carl’s age affects him in a sword fight, but dragging a house around South America? That’s a little too unbelievable, especially when the movie seems afraid to venture fully into fantasy.

The 3D effects take a backseat in Up, which was a little unexpected; there’s no visuals coming out of the screen at you screaming ‘Look, we’re in 3D!’ The effect uses the frame of the screen as a window into the film. It’s an impressive but perhaps too subtle an effect.

Where WALL-E was innovative with direction and silent comedy, Up is impressive in its human characterization and the relationship between two people with opposing ages and personalities. It may take second place to WALL-E, but it’s fun, friendly, moving and adventurous.


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