Friday, June 5, 2009

If adventure has a name... must be Carl Fredricksen.

There are two kinds of Pixar movies--the pretty good ones (Cars) and the great ones (everything else). Instead of writing a review of Pixar's latest, Up, I thought about just coining a new acronym to save us all time when reviewing or discussing Pixar movies in the future...

APM (another Pixar masterpiece).

Because Up, like WALL-E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and all the non-Cars Pixar movies going all the way back to 1995's Toy Story, is a wonderful, near-perfect movie. By my estimate, Pixar's batting average is something like .975. Think about how hit-and-miss most of the big studios are with their movies, then think about that Pixar number. Impressive, to say the least. In fairness, Pixar doesn't release nearly as many flicks per year as the other studios, so maybe they have more time for quality control.

If you've seen the Up trailers or the poster, you know the movie is about an older gentleman, Carl Fredricksen, who uses a few hundred helium balloons to turn his house into a makeshift airship. The movie actually begins with Carl as a young boy, then explores the next 50 or so years of his life in an amazing montage that tells us everything we need to know about Carl in just a few minutes. Without a word of dialog.

The Angels and Demons guys should all watch this montage before they make another movie.

The balloon house thing is just the first imaginative element in a movie that proves almost endlessly inventive. And pulpy. For example, Up gives us talking dogs, but they're not of the usual talking-cartoon-animal variety. There is a science fiction explanation for the verbose canines that would make Kurt Vonnegut proud.

With a story this fun, it might be possible to overlook the quality of the animation, which is top-notch. Beyond top-notch, actually. The Pixar guys invented the computer-animated feature film and then continued to innovate, year after year, movie after movie. Dreamworks and Fox have their Shrek and Ice Age franchises, respectively, but none of those flicks can hold a candle to WALL-E or Up from a craft standpoint. It's not just that Pixar is in a league of its own, it's that nobody else is even playing the same sport.

Speaking of innovation, Up is the first Pixar movie in 3D. And the 3D is nicely done. I especially like a gag that opens the movie. We're watching what looks like old black and white newsreel footage. It is, appropriately, 2D. Then the camera--virtual camera, sorry--pulls back and we see we're in a movie theater, sitting behind the 3D audience, watching the newsreel with them. It's a neat little movie-inside-the-movie bit, and it's really enhanced by the 3D.

Even with the new and improved digital 3D we're getting these days, it's not perfect. The colors just don't pop quite as much when they're filtered through those polarized 3D glasses. As my friend Kyle McKinnon asked, "Are you going to see Up in 3D or in color?" I'm glad I got to see the 3D version, but I look forward to seeing it in full color on the eventual Blu-ray disc.

When Stacey and I saw Up at the Vestavia Rave theater, it screened with a lead-in short (I love that Pixar has brought short films to the cineplex--hey, Warner, how about a Bugs Bunny short before the new Harry Potter flick?) and a 3D preview for Toy Story 3. It's easy to be cynical about all the sequels, remakes, and reboots we're getting these days, but I'm excited about the prospect of another romp with Woody, Buzz, and the gang. Heck, if the Pixar streak continues, the Toy Story series will end up as one of those rare trilogies where the last movie is better than the first.


Wade Kwon said...

Good review, good flick.

You reminded me: I still haven't seen Ratatouille yet.

Chance Shirley said...

It's a redundant comment after the review, but Ratatouille is great. It's Brad Bird's second Pixar flick, and it's not quite as good as his Incredibles, but it's close.

Natalie said...

What a great review! :)

Chance Shirley said...

Thank you, Wade and Nat, for the kind words!

James said...

i chose to see UP in 2D, simply because of the color factor, and the fact i have to keep adjusting the 3D glasses over my own specs. it was worth it on Coraline, but i chose the other road on this one.
maybe i'll take my hoarded 3Ds and sneak into UP3D after the Hangover this weekend...