Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Up" Is A Classic--A Personal Review

From a capsule review found here on March 23:

"Up"... A Masterpiece, in my opinion......I am going to review this artful, wonderful and, yes, buoyant piece of work. Having now seen it twice, I can hardly find words to express my appreciation for its artistry, originality, and generous and loving observaion of people on the fringe...and its spot-on characterizations of dogs. This is what animated films are all about...."Up" could not exist in any other way but as an animated film, and it packs more genuine emotion, excitement, and laughs of recognition than most any other film this year. The Oscar-winning score is a carnival, a Chaplin movie,... a Fellini circus, a banquet, a dying flower....a perfect marriage of sound to film.
Actually, this is as succinct and complete a recap as I could hope to replicate here.  But there is so much to appreciate about this terrific work that I must make mention of and give a deeper voice to my reactions.

I arrived late to "Up", due to timing, and did not see it on the big screen, to my chagrin.  My two viewings were on a widescreen high definition TV, and although I prefer my initial viewings to be theatrical ones, there was something comforting about enjoying "Up" at home.  It called to mind similar pleasures I enjoyed as a child, eagerly anticipating favorite televised movies that were so inventive, colorful, exciting and moving, that they immediately ceased to be viewed as films but as some kind of life experience, more personal, more enduing.

The characters and settings, and the very recognizable and honest sentiment created by the world of "Up", are as familiar to me now as Oz.  In fact, I may even prefer this world, for its humor, its gentility, and its fantasy tempered by real, human concerns. 

In fact, there are a few subtle similarities to "Wizard of Oz".  The balloon-buoyed storm-tossed house recalls the thrill of Dorothy's tornado. The broken voice translator on the most vicious of the dog pack makes him sound, incidentally, and hilariously, like a munchkin.  And the the elderly Carl and his motley trio-- Russel the lonely and eager scout, Dug the lovably dumb and energetic dog, and "Kevin", the large jungle bird wanting to return to her babies--are even more antic, hilarious and adventuresome than those characters encountered on the Yellow Brick Road. 

Except for the laughs and tears, most of the similarities end there.

"Up" is successful on so many levels: an adventure story, a technical marvel, a comic fantasy, a bittersweet love story, an affectionate study of dogs, kids, and the elderly.  With every detail in its design, every perfectly crafted sequence, every cleverly-written exchange of dialog, and richly scored montage, "Up" is clearly a labor of love by talented artists and craftsmen who are first of all human beings, who have observed life around them and infused this picture with the best of those observations. 

We leave this film feeling energized, inspired, creative, and in touch with a spectrum of feelings often missing from more "sophisticated" movie fare.  There is none of the rouguish innuendo so often tacked on to "family" pictures as a wink to the adults in the audience.  There is adult material here to be sure, but delivered in direct, gut-level situations that don't disturb kids, but that will hit mature audiences in unexpected ways. 

For a surprisingly substantial film, it is breezy and fun. The inventive screenplay is packed with character detail and action, yet achieves its effects economically.    Just watch how, in one shot during an early wedding scene, we learn everything we need to know about the families (and early life) of our protagonist, Carl, and Elly, his bride.  Later, in a few brilliantly efficient lines of dialog, Russel's home life is revealed, as well as Carl's reaction to it.  And in the most famous sequence of all, Carl's and Elly's married life together, in all its sweetness and loss, is presented without dialog in what must be the best cinematic chronicle of a marriage since  the breakfast scene in "Citizen Kane".

We first meet our elderly protagonist, Carl, as a shy young balloon fancier who dreams of exotic adventures.  He meets, and later marries, his tomboy neighbor Elly, who makes Carl promise that they will have adventures of their own some day.  As life moves them in unexpected directions, Carl, alone, becomes a bitter old man who must vacate his home to developers.  Soon, in the most fanciful bit of imagination, he hatches a plan to lift the house off its foundation using thousands of balloons, in his attempt to carry it off to a spot near a mythical South American waterfall they dreamed of as kids.

Both times I viewed "Up", I was determined to pay minute attention to the detail of the effects, the decor of the house, the look of the jungle, the way movement and depth were achieved;  but both times I was too captivated by the adventure.  Later, as a pack of comical dogs pick up the scent of "prunes and denture cream",  I was shocked to discover that Carl had stopped seeming like an old man to me.  He was now a grandfatherly protector, an adventurer, and a lover of dogs and birds. 

Inadvertently, and then with a lovely blessing from his Elly, Carl had reinvented himself. 

(In a very personal way, it was like having my own grandfather, Sam, comically, teasingly, humanly alive.)

Finally I must make mention of how accurately all the artists responsible for this wonderful piece of popular art captured the movements, expressions, and goofy exuberance of dogs.  The character of Dug was a perfect rendering of the facial expressions, the hanging head and look of worry when scolded, the immediate joyful forgetting and forgiveness, even the way his body moved when he breathed.  Only true dog-lovers could have achieved this spirit, and by creating a device by which the dogs could actually"speak" without needing to lip-synch the words, we even get a remarkable and warmly funny look into how these creatures' brains must work, the easy distractions ("Squirrel!"), the obsession with play, and the constant and eager expression of affection.  My favorite line of all:  "I was hiding under your porch because I love you."

Brilliant. Joyful.  Sentimental.  Perfect.  A movie I will enjoy repeatedly, and share with friends, for a long time to come.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this movie. I didn't get to see it during it's theatrical release but have seen it a few times now on DVD and it's just astonishing, the images and writing and especially the full range of emotions it cajoles from the audience. And Dug, well he basically stole the movie for me! Well done, Tom!