Monday, June 8, 2009

Lifted Up

For once, I get to review a movie before my son does. Hooray!

My wife and I went to see Up this weekend, and it gets my highest approval rating. Pixar is a company of geniuses when it comes to animated film, as proven by their unbroken string of great flicks. (Well, A Bug's Life was just okay.) Up trumps them all. Rarely have I been so uplifted by a movie.

And that is the point. The idea that a movie or play or book or story should lift our spirits has gone out of fashion. Hollywood and the critics in particular have decided that only dark stories and those about twisted, tortured characters are worthy of their respect and their accolades. If you leave a movie feeling disturbed, saddened, and sickened, they feel their work has been well done. Look at the films that win the awards and the acclaim.

At the box office, many of those films do well, but not as well as the ones that leave us cheering, smiling, and hopeful. Up is one of those, and I predict it will be a box office smash as well.

The movie also puts to rest the idea that animated characters must be cute and cuddly to be sympathetic. Carl Fredricksen is neither cute nor cuddly. He's 78 years old, stubborn, crotchety, and pugnacious. He's also totally, completely dedicated to his late wife Ellie, and a man of his word—to a fault.

The montage that chronicles Carl and Ellie's life together—encompassing their wedding, their first (and only) home, the loss of an unborn child, their dreams of living by Paradise Falls, and Ellie's death—covers just a few minutes with no dialogue at all. Yet it manages to convey all of their hopes, dreams, heartbreaks, triumphs, and tragedies in a way that most full movies can never approach. It is pure storytelling genius.

The characters are funny, quirky, and approachable. Even irascible old Carl becomes the gruff but loving grandfather we all wish we had. Russell, the young Wilderness Explorer, is impossible to resist. He's rather like a puppy. Dug, the dog with the translating collar and the squirrel obsession really caps it off. All of the characters ring true, but Dug is absolute doggie truth. Any of you who have had a dog know what I mean.

But the story and the message are what Up is really all about. Some will say that the messages about the importance of marriage, family, and stability will be lost on children, or too much for them to grasp. I must disagree. It is children who need these messages the most. They will take from this a better understanding of what it means to love for better or for worse, and of the importance of just being faithful and true to those you love.

A lot is being written about this movie, and I won't go further. I especially won't print any spoilers. Frankly, there aren't a lot of big surprises anyway. They aren't really needed when you have a story as perfect as this.

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