It came out, last weekend, that I'd never seen 'Up' (or, as I've been calling it, 'Up!' with an exclamation mark as if it was 'Shaft's Big Score!' or 'Oliver!'). I may well be the last person left to have missed it - not that the whole population has now tackled this lively adventure, but that everybody not set against the idea of seeing it has surely already taken the opportunity to do so. It was, after all, on the BBC a fortnight ago, so everyone's had their chance.
Anyway, I was furnished with a viewing copy, and I promised to give it my full attention. Perhaps because I've avoided their less obviously thrilling films, I've never been less than delighted by a Pixar movie. 'Wall-E' (2008) I similarly missed in theatres and had to be drawn to, and as with 'Up' it delighted and surprised. Surprised because I entered both knowing the concept, as far as it was presented on the (striking, calculated, elegantly simple) poster, but nothing more - so any surprise development - heck, any developments at all, expand the story beyond the one I'd constructed in my imagination.
Carl and Russell pull the house
I'm probably about to spoil for you various twists and occurrences - nothing huge, but if your knowledge of 'Up' is so virginal as mine was you may prefer to watch before you read. Now, I knew this was about a house propelled upwards by balloons and sideways by the wind (though for some reason I'd assumed the balloon thing was somehow accidental, which makes no kind of sense), and my assumption was that the first half would see our heroes fly somewhere in the house, and the second half involve a return home, or a pursuit of the house itself, possibly on a giant bird. Yes, Pixar's version is better than this. As it is, the house gets where it's going in about 25 minutes (which felt like no time at all, but it's a pretty short film by modern standards), and the rest is largely about dragging it round to its landing site before the last of the helium goes - an excellently bizarre concept for a film, and one I try to imagine being pitched in the Pixar board-room - and various more dramatic occurrences and complications that happen during the journey.
So we follow the elderly geezer and the breathlessly youthful scout (though the film is careful never to use that word) through their meetings with a giant bird of excellent character and plumage, a wealth of talking dogs, nice and nasty, and a childhood hero who (and I really should have seen this coming) turns out to be a pretty unpleasant villain. That's your lot, and they're all of them male - even the sum of the dogs - the only exceptions being a nice lady who's dead before we reach the opening credits (alas!) and the giant bird, whose quacks and hisses are nonetheless voiced by a man (alack!). I don't know that this gender imbalance is inherently noteworthy, but it's true of so many of the films I've been watching in this project - and the problem seems to be even worse in films post-2000 as it was in the silent films I've been watching from before 1930. Is it just my choice of films?
In films I've watched lately, moustaches denote evil. Such stigma!
The picture, lighting and story are all very attractive, and the dialogue is as witty, well-phrased and well-timed as I've come come to expect from Pixar, whose standards always seem very high. As reviews informed me at the time of release, the first ten minutes are almost a separate film - emotional, upsetting, magnificently short of dialogue (this last point is generally a good sign in cinema). The ending is inevitable, even predictable, but fitting and almost wholly satisfying (I say 'almost' because I'm left scratching my head as to the whereabouts of Russell's family, but their apparent disappearance is only a small concern). The voices are highly pleasing, and it turns out I'm just as glad to hear Christopher Plummer perform a role as I am to watch him - I spent the film enjoying his performance as Charles Muntz but unable to place the actor, but it seemed quite inevitable when the credits arrived. And given the talking dogs' insistence on describing scout-analogue Russell as a 'small mailman', I was glad to note art's greatest mailman Clifford Claven lent his voice to a minor character at the film's front end.
As I said at the start, it's pretty likely you've already seen this film, or else resolved in your heart that you will never do so, so it would seem futile on my part to attempt to persuade you one way or the other. Know only that it was as enjoyable as I expected, which is considerably.
P.S. If you missed last week's set of achievements and ways to join in my Penciltonian endeavour, check it out now, if you please.
P.S. Next update: 'Battleship Potemkin' (1925), and the next film I'm due to watch isn't really a film at all - but you'll hear about that in due course.
This is the part of the blog where I let commerce and capitalism take over. Be on your guard!
To note: Clifford Claven - or John Ratzenberger to give him his real life name - is fondly thought of as Pixar's mascot. He has featured in all of Pixar's films to date. As have the digits A113 - the room number of the graphic design classroom where many of the Pixar alumni started learning their craft.
I had not considered much of Russell-the-small-mailman's family. We see his mother at the end of the film, and we have a few hints along the way about his father. We know he is no longer with Russell's mother, that he has a new girlfriend (Cynthia, maybe?) and that although Russell craves his father's attention, his father seems more interested in his "new" life with his "new" family.
Personally I was a little relieved that Russell's father did not appear at the end, as I could not conceive of how he could be portrayed well (given the tidbits of information we had gleaned about him along the way), and the presence of he and Carl could only have been seen as confrontational.