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NYCC: 45 mins of Up!


If seeing the first 18 minutes of WATCHMEN wasn't cool enough, a couple of hours later a select few were treated to the opening 45 minutes of Pixar's new masterpiece UP. (I say a "select few" because, for some reason, only the first 300 people who lined up were allowed in - even though there was plenty of room inside the theater. Bad form there...) If you are not aware, UP is that cartoon about the old guy who uses balloons to fly his house through the air. At least, that's all I knew before stepping foot into the theater. If that all you want to know, STOP READING NOW!! as detailed spoilers will follow....

The film begins with a young Cark Fredricksen watching newsreel footage in a movie theater. The footage tells the tale of Charles Muntz, a famous explorer and pilot in the Charles Lindbergh mold. Carl is fascinated by Muntz's travels, and plans on following in his footsteps (for starters, he wears aviator goggles wherever he goes, and an imagined announcer describing Carl's aerial adventures plays in his head). Muntz's most notorious expedition was to a place called Paradise Falls, but questions concerning the credibility of this jungle ruined his reputation. In a huff, Muntz swears to return to the mythical land and bring back a strange creature that exists no where else - alive... He is never heard from again.

A balloon-carrying Carl later discovers, to his delight, that he's not the only Muntz admirer in his neighborhood. He happens upon an abandoned house containing a scrappy little girl named Ellie, who uses the place as her own faux-airplane. The shy and hesitant Carl is welcomed by the boisterous young girl, who promptly gets him into a situation where he falls and breaks his leg.

In his house late at night, laid up with a cast around his shattered limb, Carl is visited quite sweetly by Ellie, who floats a balloon through his window (the same balloon labeled "The Spirit of Adventure" - after Muntz's aircraft - that Carl had lost earlier in Ellie's makeshift hideout). Having already forged a friendship, the two agree to one day travel, like their idol, to Paradise Falls. Ellie makes Carl promise, which he does without argument.

Then we're launched into a silent (save for music) montage of the life these two spend together. Getting married, relaxing on a hillside, buying a house, learning Ellie is pregnant, etc. It's very sweet, and certainly reminiscent of last year's WALL-E, in a way. But this is not just a happily-ever-after kind of deal, and the montage takes a decidedly adult turn. Ellie loses the baby, and the mood becomes somber. The two grow old, clearly don't have as much energy as they used to, and Ellie eventually falls ill and dies. Yes, this is serious, solemn stuff, and I can't help but wonder if it will bore, sadden, or depress younger viewers. Older viewers will be riveted, as this is easily the most mature Pixar has ever been in terms of tone. I know I wasn't the only person in the theater getting choked up.

We then cut forward a few years, and now Carl is your typical cranky old man, not only dealing with an annoying, but well-meaning, Cub Scout named Russell who pesters him, but a corporation who is developing large buildings around his house. In fact, Carl's old house is the only one of its kind, and naturally he's not willing to leave, no matter how much money is offered. UP veers once again into a deadly serious territory when Carl gets into an altercation with one of the construction workers and inadvertently injures the man. Carl is arrested and it's decided he has to move out and live in a retirement home. This is not lighthearted Disney fare...

Carl is not going quietly, of course. In fact he's not going anywhere - at least not with the nurses who come to escort him away. This is when Carl unveils his grand scheme - before he's taken out of his home, he inflates what must be about a million balloons and his house is lifted off its foundation and flies magically through the air. Carl has a wistful moment with a picture of the deceased Ellie, and settles down for some relaxation. But then there's a knock at the door. It turns out to be Russell the Scout, who is stuck on Carl's porch. After some hesitation, Carl lets Russell in - and after a genuinely hilarious fantasy moment where he imagines hanging Russell out the window - the two are almost immediately thrown into a thunderstorm.

They crash-land in South America, are thrown out of the house, and are subsequently forced to pull it along - as it floats above them - via the hose. Carl, while still peeved he has to deal with Russell, is very happy to discover that they are IN Paradise Falls, and only have a little ways to go until they arrive at the specific spot where Carl and Ellie once dreamed they'd live. Of course, getting there won't be easy at all...

This is when UP realizes that it's got to satisfy the little ones as well as their parents, and introduces a couple of cuddly characters that will make better toys than a stuffed 80 year-old man. First we meet a gigantic bird, which can be described as part Ostrich, part Toucan. The bird takes an instant liking to Russell (and vice versa, of course) and proceeds to follow he and Carl wherever they go. Carl, of course, is less than amused by this squawking, goofy animal, which flips and bounces around with great agility (Russell names it "Kevin"). The hijinx continue when they meet a talking dog. This IS a Disney film after all, people. He doesn't talk in a traditional way however; his special collar allows him to, providing him with a funny robotic voice that basically vocalizes whatever he's feeling ("I am a dog and I love you very much!"). Apparently, "Doug" is in the process of hunting Kevin the bird for his master, and politely asks if he can take Kevin as his prisoner... Carl now has three eccentric tag-alongs as he dutifully continues to pull his house along...

Doug the dog isn't the only one of his kind, however. Three more talking dogs search the jungle for this crazed bird, these ones more intimidating than the affable Doug. Naturally, these are going to be our antagonists, although the leader, "Alpha" has a voice similar to that of Alvin the Chipmunk because his collar is malfunctioning. After some discussion, the three set off to find Doug and his "prisoner". (I am guessing their master is the lost pilot, Charles Muntz.)

And with that, the footage ended...

As you can tell, even in the first 45 minutes, UP feels like two completely different movies. The first is nothing short of a thoughtful, tender, and moving portrait of a man's life. The second is a more recognizable Disney product, likable and amusing, but ill-fitting with what came before it. It wouldn't be fair to the film if I said I "disliked" what it turned into, but considering how gripping and sensitive the first section is, I was beginning to think that UP would be the most unusual animated film ever released by the studio. Not to be - but there's plenty that I have not seen yet, and hopefully it reaches the emotional heights of the earlier sequences.

Needless to say, Pixar once again does a bang-up job technically, filling the frame with bright colors and wondrous details - the best of which may lie in Carl himself. Voiced by Ed Asner, the character's craggily, frowning face is alive with expression, and is yet another step forward for the company when it comes to realizing human characters. He's a wonderful, and it's when he's center stage the movie is at its best. (For his part, Russell resembles a younger version of the plump humans in WALL-E, cute but not exactly ground-breaking). Similar to WALL-E (sorry for the multiple comparisons, but for me they're unavoidable), its when Carl is besieged by silly supporting characters that the movie takes a small step backward. But for whatever drawbacks there might be, the film is a spirited, lively entertainment that proves that this company's track-record of excellence is not at all ready to wane. Even when their output is a little off (ex: CARS), it's still emotional, earnest, and most of all, fun. I personally can't wait to see the rest - although I might even be more excited to see the first 15 minutes again...

Source: JoBlo.com



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