On Saturday, Elvira and our friend Luke and I went to see Up and were mightily impressed. It really is amazing, the attention to detail the Pixar gang puts into their story-telling. There’s a ten minute, mostly silent montage that had more emotional weight, drama and genuine emotion than most live-action films manage in 2 hours, and they deftly avoided any of the more saccharine moments that could have turned it into a sap fest. Bravo.
This level of depth and technical skill in an animated film is really breathtaking. A lot of reviewers have said this but it’s not just hyperbole. There’s character details being animated in ways that live actors can learn from. Also, the fact that the best movie of the year to date is an animated feature aimed ostensibly towards children should make every live-action screenwriter weep. You’re being schooled in dramatics and story telling by a movie with talking dogs. Pixar is making the rest of you look like chumps. Please, for the sake of your mortgages and children, if not for your craft, step up your game and deliver us some live action films that are up to the Pixar level of quality. You will be handsomely rewarded.
The story should be a tragedy: an elderly man attempts to commit suicide by fulfilling a ludicrous promise to his dead wife and along they way, rescues an abused dog and neglected child from the hands of a demented hunter. This could have gone in any number of directions and depending on the director, it could have been mind-meltingly weird (David Lynch) or heavy-handed and sappy (Ron Howard). Instead, it’s a life-afirming comedy adventure.
Honestly, this is one of those films that will and should be studied in film school as a how-to guide. It’s The Graduate, with an adventure sub plot. And talking dogs. Seriously, the talking dogs! There’s absolutely no reason the dogs should have been as fun as they were. If Dreamworks had made the movie, they would’ve been telling fart jokes and it would have just been dumb. But the dogs had personality and behaved like real dogs, obsessed with attention, status and easily distracted by balls and the mere mention of squirrels.
Also, Russel was a believable little kid, not a tiny adult, as we get in so many movies. It was nice to see a kid want what kids want: validation for being unprepared but trying as hard as they can do do something that will get them appreciation. The absent farther back story was also handled really well and his personality is just so refreshingly child-like. The scene where he comes into the house after clinging to the porch does this in a superb manner. In an instant, he goes from being terrified to curious, just like any overstimulated kid would.
Also, also: I dare you not to cry during the first act.
Once again, Pixar proves that no one does movies – animated or otherwise – better.
1. Not to the Gay Pride Parade, as previously reported because I got the days mixed up and it was on Sunday. We did get to the Pride Parade – more on that later.
2. And for the second year in a row. Last year, it was robot mimes. Every screenwriter in Hollywood should be polishing a gun barrel with their tongue right about now, and would be if the Academy hadn’t rigged the system so that they don’t have to compete with animated films. Up will win Best Animated Film this year, even though it deserves Best Picture.