All ‘Up’ all the time

Posted by · 12:43 pm · May 11th, 2009

UpDisney/Pixar’s “Up” is set to open this year’s Cannes International Film Festival Wednesday on the Croisette (Guy will be all over festival coverage for you, by the way), so the papers from here to there were obviously a little toon happy over the weekend.  The most encompassing was L.A. Times writer John Horn’s look at the film’s four-year history from a passenger seat at the studio’s insider screening in Northern California last month, but it was this aside concerning deliberation over a music cue (Michael Giacchino is once again scoring) in a key sequence:

As “Up’s” poster and trailer make clear, the film’s central image is a house, tethered to thousands of balloons, soaring into the sky. When septuagenarian Carl Fredricksen’s ( Ed Asner) residence took flight at the Skywalker screening, Giacchino’s score was big and dramatic, the kind of music that typically accompanies an action sequence.

“What we had I think works,” said Docter. “But I didn’t feel like we were quite capturing it.” Specifically, the music wasn’t magical, poetic. The house’s taking off needed to play more like a mystical metaphor — Fredricksen’s trying somehow to join his late wife, Ellie, in the heavens — and less like a prison break.

“There’s something about the lyricism of the floating house that appealed to me from Day One,” said Docter, a tall man whose 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, provided young Ellie’s voice. With a new piece of music, the scene played closer to how he always imagined it should. “Now, it’s almost like he’s waltzing with Ellie as the house takes off.”

After sneaking in a quasi-review and perhaps giving away too many plot details in the mid-section of his piece, Horn finally closes with this meaningful bit:

“Up,” for all of its novelty, was returning to some of the same simple, universal ideas that anchor all Pixar movies. Strip away the elaborate (if sometimes unconventional) narrative devices, and you begin to see relatable truths that give the movies heart. Wall-E just wants to hold hands. “Ratatouille” is about becoming the person you were born to be. The importance of family? Watch “Finding Nemo.”

What “Up” was trying to say, in other words, was not so different from what has happened to Pixar itself: that growing older can be a beautiful thing.

The Times of London, meanwhile, seems to have sent writer Dominic Wells to the very same screening as he offers up a similar report.  But he did get a rather insightful quote out of “Up” co-director Pete Docter.  Here it is in context:

Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, who co-wrote and directed the film, are as surprised as anyone at how it’s turned out. The film began as a visual image — a sad old man holding a colourful balloon — and an inchoate yearning to escape society. It took years of brainstorming before the plot emerged, which now includes an eight-year-old stowaway, a dog with a collar that gives hilarious voice to his thoughts, a crazed explorer and his lethal pack of hounds, and that mythical bird named Kevin. More Miyazaki than Disney, it is surreal but believable, hilarious and sweet.

“Animation can capture life,” explains Docter, who resembles a cartoon character himself: two perfectly semicircular ears sprout at right angles from a rectangular head. “But it can be more than life. Like in a restaurant, where you get a reduction sauce: animation can be so pure and concentrated that it speaks louder than life.”

And of course, there are those who dig perhaps a bit too deep into the visual storytelling of animation.  Jeffrey Wells is public enemy number one for this kind of thing and he was in not-so-rare form with this controversial (if fair) stab at the film’s depiction of a pudgy youngster:

Pixar and Up co-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson to Worldwide Audiences: This is Russell, the lead adolescent in our film and our idea of a cute kid. And let’s not have any jabs about his weight — it’s who the kid is inside that counts. Corpulence doesn’t matter. Besides, obesity is normal among American kids these days so why not reflect that?

Russell, you can assume, eats loads of fast food, sits around a lot and, barring a major attitude change, will eventually grow into an full-sized Jabba who will face myriad health problems and a diminished life expectancy. And that’s fine. Because the size of your body isn’t as important as the size of your heart. And backing us up on this point are thousands of internet chat-room types ready to rip into anyone who suggests that presenting obesity as a normal and accepted adolescent condition is some kind of cultural problem. It’s not! Embrace the balloon-ness!

Four days later, 64 comments and counting.  If this trio isn’t enough and you need more “Up” this instant, Apple has all the trailers plus three clips and a TV spot for your perusal.  I’ve stayed away from just about everything beyond the teaser trailer on this one.

I’ll be seeing “Up” on the Disney lot over in Burbank Thursday, after the initial rush to judge out of Cannes has been chewed over in the news cycle for 24 hours.  And I can’t wait.  I’ve heard more than a few call it Pixar’s best yet.  Could this film be the one to finally turn the corner for Pixar in the Best Picture race?  Or did “WALL-E” prove last year that such speculation is naive at best?

→ 8 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

8 responses so far

  • 1 5-11-2009 at 1:07 pm

    Mr. F said...

    I’m was already excited for this, and these comments make me even more excited. Maybe the oscar voters will see themselves reflected in Fredricksen and put it in their BP ballot. Or if they don’t see themselves, then they should put it to atone for snubbing Pixar for BP

  • 2 5-11-2009 at 1:30 pm

    Jester said...

    I saw Up at a pre-screening in Hartford this past Sunday. It’s a terrific film. Not on the Nemo/Ratatouille/Walle level but still a hell of a lot of fun.

  • 3 5-11-2009 at 3:45 pm

    JunJun said... has the Up Review posted already.

  • 4 5-11-2009 at 3:50 pm

    Dell said...

    Saw an advance screening, in 2d. WOW! Laugh out loud hilarious and melancholy and heartwarming. This movie is amazing because it is a Human story that resonates with us. The characters were human-albeit stylized-and their lives were not sanitized as you’d expect from animation. The characters are people-like the rest of us-that are not perfect and have their own issues and struggles. I won’t get into anymore because I don’t want to spoil it. I’ll be seeing it again in 3d this time.

  • 5 5-11-2009 at 5:47 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “ has the Up Review posted already.”

    I think “an” is a more appropriate article than “the.” Lots of people have seen it. Most are waiting to post a review, as requested. Emmanuel lurks in that “I’ll do what the hell I want because I’m an HFPA member” area.

  • 6 5-11-2009 at 6:23 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    A masterpiece from Pixar. Ill believe it when I see it. Fine, I believe it.

  • 7 5-12-2009 at 1:19 am

    Harold said...

    I was fortunate enought to be at an advance screening here in TX a couple of weeks back. It warrants a place among Pixar’s crown jewels such as Wall-E, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. It struck a seamless and perfect balance of comedy and genuine heartfelt emotion. It touched me more than any of Pixars past 9 films. It was shown in 2d and I’m eager to see the 3d version. Kudos to Pixar.

  • 8 5-13-2009 at 4:08 am

    Eunice said...

    I’m a Pixar believer, so I will be lining up to see this one.