One against ‘Up’

Posted by · 7:57 am · May 29th, 2009

UpNo surprise that the first unmitigated critical slam for “Up” should come from the reliably cranky Armond White, who has made his disdain for Pixar’s output clear on a number of previous occasions. His review goes on to lay out his wider problem with “Pixarism” (good word, that), namely that the films are just too cute:

Pixar’s price sticker includes enough saccharine emotion to distract some viewers from being more demanding; they don’t mind the blatant narrative manipulation of a sad old man and lonely little boy. They buy animation to extend their childhood like men who buy cars for phallic symbols.

Pixarism defines the backward taste for animation. Refuting Chuck Jones’ insistence that he didn’t create his great Warner Bros. cartoon for children, Pixarism domesticates and homogenizes animation—as if to preserve family values. The only exceptions have been Brad Bird’s Pixar movies The Incredibles and Ratatouille—both sumptuously executed in Bird’s belief that animation should show “how things feel rather than are. Indulging in the human aspect of being alive.” Yet their conceptual weak point was cuteness—same as Up’s glossing over Carl’s “public menace” court conviction and that inconsistently imagined dog pack.

As someone who finds Pixar more of a hit-and-miss outfit than is generally perceived — and bearing in mind that I haven’t yet seen “Up” — I still don’t think that’s an entirely fair argument. (I do, however, agree that Bird is their most sophisticated storyteller.)

The least of Pixar’s films do have an overly cozy world view that hampers genuine feeling, but their best work investigates themes of loneliness and failure with more restraint than their rivals in the mainstream kids’ market. (As I was discussing in my piece on “Where the Wild Things Are” earlier this week, melancholy in family-oriented cinema is a tough sell to studios, if not always to families.) The complaint about “cuteness,” meanwhile, is sheer perversity: “Bambi” is no less mature a story of loss and identity for the leavening influence of a Thumper.

For my part, my own concern about “Up,” going simply on what I’ve seen so far, is an unrelated and relatively trivial one: after the lush textures and shimmering palettes of Pixar’s last two films, why does the pastel-toned animation here look so functional in comparison? Is it just me?

(On another side note, it’s an interesting coincidence that White uses Chaplin as a reference point for “Up” in the same week that we discussed the link — or not, depending on your take — between “Monsters, Inc.” and “City Lights.” The echoes of Chaplin’s physical comedy were plain to see in last year’s “WALL-E” too … what other Pixarist parallels can you find?)

→ 11 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

11 responses so far

  • 1 5-29-2009 at 10:23 am

    red_wine said...

    The reviews are honestly through the roof. The critic’s community has come out in staggering support of the film, its far and away the most acclaimed film of the year so far.

    The film currently has 2 negative reviews out of a total 120 on RT, including the 1 by White. Absurd though it may sound, Up currently has slightly better reviews than Wall-E, though many reviews are still to come in.

  • 2 5-29-2009 at 10:42 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Pixar’s price sticker includes enough saccharine emotion to distract some viewers from being more demanding.”

    This from the guy who worships at Spielberg’s altar. I don’t think there is a film critic more full of *expletive deleted* than Armond White.

  • 3 5-29-2009 at 10:55 am

    Guy Lodge said...


  • 4 5-29-2009 at 11:09 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    White clearly has formed his own opinions and sticks by them. Hostile commenters over there love to bring up which movies he liked vs. which he didn’t to prove he is an idiot. I think it just proves he’s one of the few critics worth checking in with.

  • 5 5-29-2009 at 11:42 am

    twc said...

    Is it me or is armond white starting to sound like Anton Ego. Maybe that’s why he liked ratatouille. LOL

  • 6 5-29-2009 at 2:55 pm

    Chris said...

    Armond White has no taste. He thought The Dark Knight was terrible, and that Ledger’s performance was ‘overrated’ and ‘hammy’

  • 7 5-29-2009 at 5:17 pm

    Godfather said...

    Saw UP this afternoon (in 3-D) — in spite of a very moving opening and a later sequence that connects to the film’s first images, I was not as moved by the film overall. Using White’s criticism of the “inconsistently imagined dog pack,” it’s my opinion that their animation throws off both the emotional response and the integrity of the film. Oddly, I have to agree that “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles” have something different in their execution that allows me to respond more completely to them as works of art — and that’s the inherent emotion in the storyline that sustains their creation through the end of each film. That doesn’t happen in UP, which is sidelined by an incongruous pack of dogs (and other far-fetched ideas). Not a bad hour-and-a-half in the theater, but I can’t rave about it.

  • 8 5-29-2009 at 5:23 pm

    Joel said...

    “I think it just proves he’s one of the few critics worth checking in with.”

    You’re talking about the guy who called Transporter 3 a much better movie than Slumdog Millionaire, Chad. The guy has no integrity as a film critic, whatsoever. He attacks stuff when they might have the slightest impact on pop culture (i.e. anything by Pixar, Dark Knight, Star Trek, Iron Man). It’s not about whether he’s an “idiot,” but about whether he actually understands what movies are about. I agree with the RT commenter who made the strong point about how if filmmakers were to listen to him, the film industry would be dead.

  • 9 5-29-2009 at 5:23 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Again Chris, I think that shows he has very strong taste. Just not the same as yours. Or mine.

  • 10 5-29-2009 at 5:25 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I haven’t seen Transporter 3 but it wouldn’t have to be very good to be better than Slumdog Millionaire in my opinion. Using movie vs. movie scenarios will get you nowhere in the quest to out someone as an idiot. It’s all a matter of taste and as far as I’m concerned, White can back up his taste with opinions that show some thought and that’s what I’m interested in.

  • 11 5-29-2009 at 6:31 pm

    Katie said...

    I think the polarizing nature of White’s reviews, although sometimes incorrect (imho), are very important. It nice to have a complete 180 point of view you know.