Counterpoint: Up


[This week is Pixar Week here at Flixist, so we’re doing special reviews and features for all things Pixar. Keep your eyes on the Pixar Week tag page for more updates, or just watch the front page!]

At Flixist, we don’t all agree on the same movies. But that’s to be expected, right? So when Tom asked me to write a counterpoint to his Overrated article concerning Up, I was all over it. For those who don’t know, Up, is easily my favorite Pixar movie, which makes it a contender for my favorite movie of all time (rah rah Robocop, whatever). But having to sit down, and actually explain to a bunch of strangers (you folk) why a movie is so good is really hard. So I apologize in advance if this article is nothing but me blubbering on about how much I love Carl and Ellie, or how I wish Dug was my dog.

After the break, I’ll be addressing each of Tom’s points with my own counter to them. Just make sure you read his article first, or this feature won’t make any sense at all.

Picture 1

Carl’s Health

Tom mentions that Carl’s physical well being isn’t consistant through the movie. At the beginning, he uses a chair lift to get downstairs. By the end of the movie, he’s fighting another old timer with his walker. And between all that, he drags his house through the jungle. Sure, he does fall down a lot, and he gets hurt, but it seems like Tom would have rather seen Carl get mortally wounded. But you need to remember, Up is not that kind of movie. Imagine if Carl broke his hip during half-way the journey. That’d be it. The end, roll credits. By allowing the movie to not bother with the reality of what Carl’s health would be, we’re presented with one of the most meaningful narratives in animation. Besides, it’s a cartoon. The audience’s suspension of disbelief is already out the window. Speaking of…

Suspension of Disbelief

“But it’s a talking dog!”

That line right there sums up everything that needs to be said about the viewer’s suspension of disbelief during Up. The movie, essentially, is a fairy tale about an old man trying to let go of his mourning. The logical thing to do in this instance, is to tie thousands of balloons to your house, and sail away to South America. See, this is the beautiful thing about movies: anything can happen at any time, and as long as it’s fitting within the film’s universe, it makes sense. 

Tom points out an example in The Incredibles where outlandishness is countered with a sense of realism, and he makes a good point: that movie handled realism and outlandishness very well. But so did Up, only in reverse. The audience is given twenty minutes of realism and character development, and then Ellie dies. What follows that, is a series of joyous, and hilarious events to counter the stark realism of losing Ellie. Having lost my dad years back, I remember that the best thing to do is to laugh at an old story of his that some relative told. I think Up realized that rule completely.

The Villain

The coolest thing about Charles Muntz, is that he’s not really a villain. He’s just a dude who’s looking for a way home, and won’t let anything get in his way. The only villainous thing about him is that he wants to shoot a bird we’ve grown to care about, or throw a little kid out of a zeppelin. We actually kind of sympathize with him, when he says how long he’s been searching for Kevin, and how many dogs he’s lost in the process. This is a guy who has real emotions, unlike most villains who just want nothing but ultimate power. He’s just…gone a little mad is all.

Picture 2

Ridiculous amounts of decoy joke recycling

I, um…what? Since when are too many jokes a bad thing? And all of these jokes work, is the thing. Tom may have felt they were overused, but I don’t see it. Especially seeing how they were vital to the plot.

Underwhelming side characters: plot

The reason those things aren’t in the flick, is because that’s not the story Pixar wanted to tell. Moving on.

Underwhelming side characters: design

Yet another non-issue. The design of Charles’ dogs just plain work with what the story is. Dug is so differently designed because of two reasons. Number one, he’s a completely different character from the other dogs in Charles’ arsenal. We’re supposed to relate and care about Dug, not fear him like Alpha. Number two, have you ever seen a yellow labrador? They’re exactly as dopey and lovey as Dug. His more cartoonish design makes all of his jokes funnier, and more in line with the character. Try and picture a photo realistic yellow lab saying “Master, I hid under your porch because I love you.” It doesn’t work as well.

Picture 3

Underwhelming Environments

I have to disagree with Tom’s point, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the jungle isn’t quite the character that the jungle in The Incredibles was. It doesn’t need all of these awesome set pieces that that flick had, the jungle is just kinda there. Secondly, the jungles in the movie are accurate to what is actually in Venezuela. Seeing comparison photos from the Pixar team’s trip to the continent, and watching the movie now, you can tell that a lot of love went into crafting these environments. Every little detail, from the changing weather pattern on the tepuis (the table-top mountains), to the mile high waterfalls, are there, and beautifully rendered. To call the environments in Up underwhelming is borderline insulting to the crew that created it.

Final Points

Up is, to me, one of the best films of the past twenty years. It boldly goes where no Pixar film before it dared to go (I remember reading an article explaining why there wasn’t too much Up related merchandise, and it’s because Disney didn’t know how to market a movie about losing your wife to kids). It’s the first movie to bring me to tears. It’s the movie that I can always come home to and enjoy, no matter what mood I’m in. It’s one of the only movies who’s soundtrack I listen to on a regular basis. It’s one of my perfect movies.
I realize that it’s not the movie for some people. Some people have more emotional attachement to Toy Story 3 (Oh how I love that movie, too), or some people prefer the love story of WALL-E and EVE. Some people prefer to see Mr. Incredible throw down a few punches. I get that. But to me, whenever I think Pixar, I think of Up

Perhaps the thing I love most about it isn’t the old timey charm of the movie, or how Dug is the perfect dog, but it’s how subtle the whole thing is. During those quiet moments, when not a word is said, Pixar commands the screen with visual metaphor and symbolism. The perfect example of this is when Carl realizes his house is just a house, and that he doesn’t need physical items to remember his wife. So he finally let’s go of the house, and with it, all the mourning and sorrow he had for his dear departed wife.

Alright, enough blubbering, let’s finish this thing up already. Up is a rare kind of movie. The kind that comes around maybe every ten years if we’re lucky. It’s the kind of movie that can meditate on life, and still tell a good entertaining story. It can kick your heart in the ass in the first twenty minutes, and then make you laugh hysterically half an hour later. It’s a welcome change to the current climate of movies, and I for one, welcome it with open arms.

Score: 10 – Perfect (There are few 10s in this world, and this reviewer thinks this is one of them.)

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