June 9, 2009

Up.


I dare 2009 to bring me a better movie than Up.

The argument I've heard most often against Up (rarely, but enough to note) is that it's an animated movie, and animated movies are for kids. Now, you'd think after Ratatouille and Wall-E, two films that got more than a little talk about Best Picture Oscar nominations, most people would wise up to the fact that Pixar's animated flicks are works of art in both style and substance. But apparently not. And you'd think that the 98% Rotten Tomatoes rating it has would sway almost everyone - I know most people are stupid, even movie reviewers, but it's hard to argue with across-the-board praise like that.

And the thing is - it's entirely justified. Some things in Up come out of left field - animated or not, I didn't walk into this particular movie expecting to see talking dogs. But, like most other things Pixar does, it just works. They're able to mix the real emotion of an old man fulfilling a promise to his wife with the absurdity of a giant, screeching bird and a dog telling a dead squirrel joke with such ease that it's impossible to not be enchanted.

The first 15 minutes have been talked up enough as is - yes, you will at least tear up - but I'd like to emphasis once again what has proven to be one of Pixar's major strengths: Telling their stories without words. Much like the first half-hour of Wall-E, the entire montage sequence in Up that's bringing audiences to tears is a light musical composition over a collection of silent scenes. Yet it's absolutely gut-wrenching, and it perfectly illustrates the problem with other animated movies - the palette these directors and writers have to work with is unlimited. A skilled director in this medium should be able to paint the most beautiful pictures, draw out extremely elaborate emotions and tell the most complex stories of all, because only the sky is their limit. But they don't.

Over the course of time, someone decided to make animated movies strictly for kids. Even though many of the Disney movies from the past hold up as terrific features, in the mid-90s it seems like dancing and singing animals, painfully cliched love stories and celebrity voice-acting officially became the standard template that every animated movie had to follow.

And again, therein lies the beauty of Pixar. They work within this template to a certain extent (although they lampoon it a bit with Up's brand of talking animal) - no matter how many adult themes they manage to slip in, these are definitely movies that your kids will love. But at the same time, instead of casting Brad Pitt as a voice, they cast Craig T. Nelson. Or Ed Asner. Or Jeff Garlin. Instead of talking down to kids, and making movies with fart or poop jokes (if you've seen the G-Force trailer before Up, you know what I mean), they make movies, and characters, with real emotions, and it seems like kids are still able to respond.

When it comes down to it, there is no more reliable studio in American filmmaking than Pixar. Not only are their movies extremely popular, but they are extremely terrific. I saw Up for the second time in a week last night, and I appreciated the humor or emotion just as much. In fact, I even caught some jokes I'd missed the first time around. At this point, it's no fluke - Pixar knows how to tell (and illustrate) a movie better than anyone. If you want to see a brilliant, dazzling, heartwarming film, go see Up.

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