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    Sunday, June 21, 2009
    Pixar Aims High, Doesn't Miss

    I saw Up this weekend, which means I've already seen two more films this summer than I saw last year. Here's your real short film review: it's excellent. Go see it.

    Long version: last week after seeing Star Trek my friends and I went to dinner, during which I whined: "What is it about screenwriting today? Why doesn't anybody realize it's about the characters, and the dialogue, and the plot? I mean, look at those trailers we watched!" (G.I. Joe and Transformers II, in case I have to remind you).

    One of my friends who has a fair amount of screenwriting experience responded with reasonable answers (the amount of money invested in films today, the value of toy rights, video game rights, etc.) I know he's right, but in all but the most exceptional case you wind up with crappy, unwatchable films with the sound of things blowin' up for two hours. Oh, and perhaps the hero and heroine getting it on for a couple minutes, just for a change.

    Pixar has miraculously managed to avoid this pitfall. They consistently come up with brilliant, imaginative, watchable films featuring characters that the audience identifies with. Up is no exception; in fact I would say that Pixar has outdone themselves with this film. From reading reviews on IMDb I got the impression that the people who had issues with Up thought it was either a) too sad or b) had too much comic relief. Me, I thought they hit just the right balance.

    Let me be honest and say that you probably don't want to take a little kid to this film. It deals with the Big Scary Stuff like aging, death and having your parent desert you. But Up touches lightly on these heavy themes and gives us a healthy dose of imagination and adventure to sweeten the bitter undertone, and sends you out of the theater feeling uplifted. So to speak.

    I will just give you a few of the highlights that struck me. The montage at the beginning of the film, which tells the audience about Carl (the protagonist's) life, is brilliant and will in fact move you to tears. What really hit me was a split second shot during the wedding scene. The camera viewpoint moves from the bride's family, madly applauding and happy, to the groom's family - tightly smiling and tepid. That's all we need to know about why child Carl is so monosyllabic and why he is the way he is as a senior citizen. Brilliant.

    The dogs: some of the commenters in IMDb felt they were crappy comic relief. I couldn't disagree more. They don't literally "talk," but wear translator collars which turn their thoughts into English. This was another incredibly imaginative idea, as it allows for lots of humor when the collars malfunction (Alpha Dog's collar keeps doing this) and gives the dogs an interesting cadence in their speech. It's slightly stilted and the syntax is a bit off - in short, they don't sound like people, they sound like dogs. Also, I give the film major points for avoiding butt-sniffing jokes, "dogs marking their territory" jokes and so forth. They don't have to go there: they're Pixar.

    Ed Asner does great voice work as Carl Fredricksen, and it's a delight to hear Christopher Plummer as bad guy Charles Muntz (his character resembles Errol Flynn crossed with Charles Lindbergh). His character's name is a bit of an inside joke, as Walt Disney's original backer was named Charles Mintz. He later co-opted the rights to Disney's first hit character, Oswald the Rabbit. Disney responded, of course, by coming up with Mickey Mouse.

    Long story short, this is probably the best movie of the summer. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make you think (but not too hard). It has travel, adventure, life, death and talking dogs. Go see it.




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