…must come down.
And Pixar’s latest movie barely gets afloat before it crashes.
Image © Pixar Animation Studios/Walt Disney Pictures
I just got around to seeing UP; and despite the flood of reviews surrounding the film’s release, I made it a point not to read any. Here are my thoughts, fresh and unfiltered (some spoilers below).
Many friends who saw the movie had reported how it tugged at their heartstrings, or made them cry. Honestly, I can’t see why. I know audience reaction is pretty subjective, but I didn’t even come close to feeling anything like it. I did feel like I was being told how I should feel. The montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together is a clever piece of silent storytelling, and it might have evoked emotions in me if I had cared about the characters, but at that early point in the film, I didn’t (more on that later). The montage itself felt heavy-handed, and made me long for the more evocative storytelling in Kunio Kato’s “House of Small Cubes”, which had a somewhat similar sequence, but with a gentler touch that involved the audience’s imagination more.
Even the big turning point in Carl’s attitude upon reaching Paradise Falls felt too convenient. The conflict just didn’t feel strong enough. It might have been something if he actually struggled with his dilemma and gave up on going to Paradise Falls in order to save Kevin. At least we’d see him make a tough emotional decision, and maybe we’d feel more involved. Given Pixar’s past record of taking the audience on an emotional ride, the emotional changes in this film felt too sudden, almost forced, and I felt like a distant observer of somebody’s story unfolding. A big part of this was because I didn’t feel for the characters, which brings me to:
Charles Muntz is possibly the weakest villain I’ve seen of late, and his talking dogs seem almost pointless. But more significantly:
Who’s the most important character in this movie? Not Carl, but Ellie, whose memory motivates Carl to take his journey. No Ellie = no journey to Paradise Falls. We’re constantly reminded of how much she means to Carl even after her passing; yet, for such an important character, we know precious little about her! Too little to really care; and if we don’t care about her, we just have to take for granted what the filmmakers tell us about Carl’s devotion to her. That weakened my bond with Carl, the protagonist. Bye-bye, empathy.
Ellie’s bland design makes it worse. At least we have enough visual cues in Carl’s design to understand him quickly. Ellie doesn’t even have that going for her. With a generic design like that, she’d need a few more meaningful scenes to have the emotional thrust needed for this plot to take off.
Okay, I know Pixar’s earlier films aren’t perfectly plotted either, but at least their tight pacing and more endearing characters made us overlook their narrative flaws. This movie had neither, so I was left staring at some giant holes one could fly a Zeppelin through. I leave it up to you to find them, if you’re interested.
Hey, at least I liked something. Great job on the clouds, and the light filtering through the balloons. Dreamy.
All right, may be you can help me on this one. Is there any reason this story had to be told through animation? Wouldn’t live action with VFX do the trick? They wouldn’t even need to animate the mouths on the dogs; the talking collar gimmick would have saved them a ton of money!
Please let me know in the comments if you can think of any good reason.
Do I sense a pattern?
Am I the only one who’s getting tired of the “Exposition through newsreel/tv footage” idea in Pixar’s films? I think it may have started with “The Incredibles” (correct me if I’m wrong), but “Ratatouille” had it, “Wall-E” had a variation of it, and “Up” begins with a newsreel too.
At what point does a studio start to see the patterns they’ve set themselves into?
I have to say, I enjoyed “Partly Cloudy”, the short that played with “Up”. It’s simple and to-the-point. Though it’s set in the clouds, it feels fairly anchored and balanced. “Up”, on the other hand, feels like a balloon aimlessly drifting away on the whims of too many ideas.