Can’t win ’em all

Posted by · 5:24 am · May 14th, 2009

UpSo as is the norm with Pixar productions, “Up” is apparently capturing the heart of virtually every critic it encounters. Jeff Wells offered a few mild caveats, but he was largely won over as well. So I was interested to read Kaleem Aftad’s three-star review in the Independent, which offers the first hard-and-fast criticism of the film I’ve seen to date:

Watching with tinted glasses cannot hide the deficiencies of this adventure. It is increasingly apparent that Pixar is a company that operates best when dealing with nostalgia. Like the outfit’s previous film, WALL-E, Up is superb in setting up characters and a world that hankers over memories of yesteryear, but once the adventure moves into its obligatory action denouement, it enters a world of stereotypes that disappoints.

Indeed, action sequences have been Pixar’s Achilles’ heel, with overly long and tedious effects letting down Cars and The Incredibles. In Up, the blockbuster moments that should be of Around the World in 80 Days proportions are instead surprisingly uninventive.

Apart from the kooky animals (nowhere near as endearing as The Jungle Book ones), the destination is a boring land of plateaus and uninspiring forests. Muntz pops up as a Wizard of Oz-inspired villain. The nostalgic past is replaced by a horrible sentimental present that lacks emotional punch.

Not having seen the film, I have no idea how valid these jabs are, but it’s useful to get some perspective. Interestingly, unlike several critics who are signficantly more enthusiastic about the film, Aftad has no problem whatsoever with the film’s 3-D element, justifying it on the grounds that it emphasises “optical reality rather than just an eye-popping spectacle.”

In contrast, the Guardian’s Xan Brooks, who loves the film, sides with Roger Ebert, complaining: “It’s a film that was always going to come in three dimensions, no matter what digital wizardry they garnished it with.”

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9 responses so far

  • 1 5-14-2009 at 5:39 am

    Brando said...

    I think that with the “Around the World in 80 Days” and “Wizard of Oz”-inspired villain thing he got a point. The movie seems very like those.
    But the world really like it.

  • 2 5-14-2009 at 5:53 am

    Jim said...

    I have liked all Pixar films I’ve seen (I’ve seen most of them) but I only loved Finding Nemo (and I was a bit young at the time) so I predict I will like Up as well but nothing more. But I so hope it blows me away instead! But Ratatuille had gread reviews and I only liked it. So…

  • 3 5-14-2009 at 9:38 am

    Bill said...

    I completely disagree about the action sequences in The Incredibles.

  • 4 5-14-2009 at 10:22 am

    Nathaniel R said...

    I love Pixar with a huge swelling heart but I do get a bit tired of the rose-colored glasses people put on about every film. CARS for instance was not good. So people saying “every film has been a winner” hmm…

    some more than others obviously but i’m excited to see this

  • 5 5-14-2009 at 10:26 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nathaniel: THANK YOU

  • 6 5-14-2009 at 12:07 pm

    John Lasseter's Internet Ghost said...

    Yeah, the moment I read that he thought the action sequences in The Incredibles were bad, I stopped reading. Probably not a great thing to do, as it immediately cancels my opinion, but that statement (the incredibles one) is balderdash.

    I have loved every Pixar movie except for Cars. However, unlike Nathaniel and Guy, I still think Cars was a pretty good movie. I enjoyed it, and I thought the animation was wonderful. It certainly wasn’t up to par with the rest of the Pixar canon (nowhere close), but it was mountains better than the dreck that comes from Dreamworks (Kung Fu Panda aside.) Now, some may say it is bad to compare them, but that’s ridiculous. I have low expectations for dreamworks, but Pixar, my expectations are always high. So for them to come out with a movie that was not a masterpiece but just sort of good, well immediately I think “What a trainwreck, Cars was.” That’s nonsense. Cars was a solid movie. It didn’t say anything new, and had zero innovation (which was maybe a tad the point), but it was still a pretty solid movie. It just felt like it was shit because of the extraordinarily high standards we’ve come to know of Pixar.

    But I’m rambling and in doing so, killing any sort of argument I had. Shoot. Oh well. I liked Cars. 10 for 10.

  • 7 5-14-2009 at 12:14 pm

    chad said...

    It sounds like Up will suffer from the same flaws as The Incredibles and Wall-E. Formally and thematically challenging first half is reduced to boring action sequences in the second.

  • 8 5-14-2009 at 4:26 pm

    JC said...

    Of course not every critic is going to like this film. But it’s still a safe bet for scoring in the 95% positive range at Rotten Tomatoes and in the high 80s or more at Metacritic. Which will make it better reviewed than 95% of the films out there in any given year.

    As for Pixar, I’m really fond of the two Brad Bird pics, WALL-E, and the Toy Story films. The rest are well crafted from a visual standpoint, or have a reasonably clever premise, but don’t work for me that much on a character level…too much annoying ad-libbing from the main actors (particularly Crystal and Degeneres in Monsters, Inc., and Nemo). I haven’t seen Cars, nor do I intend to.

    As for Up, I’m hoping for something in the range of quality of WALL-E, but wouldn’t be surprised if we end up with another Monsters, Inc.

  • 9 5-16-2009 at 11:19 am

    McGuff said...

    Finding Nemo was on TV this morning, and I got roped in. It really is just a wonderful film. I respect WALL-E more, but Nemo has to be my favorite to watch.