Thursday, February 4, 2010


Peter Docter and Bob Peterson

2009 (6.8*)

I'm not the first to jump off the Pixar bandwagon over this film. In spite of the Oscar® nomination for best picture, this is certainly Pixar's most disappointing effort, and many fans online agree. They forgot the two main attributes animated comedy films should have: good animation and funny humor. This film opts for the pseudo-realism of real 3-d objects rather than funny or even attractive characters. Ed Asner (usually great to me) voices Carl, a bitter elderly widower whose wife died before they could achieve their dream of moving to or at least visiting the adventurous Paradise Falls in South America, where an adventurer named Muntz (Christopher Plummer) discovered a rare bird skeleton, only to be accused of fraud, then driven out of the scientific community, and vanished, never to be heard from again. Sound like a great premise for a comedic animated feature? Well, if you think like me, you're right - it not only isn't a good premise, but the best parts of the movie are when Carl's wife Ellie are still alive, which are unfortunately only the first ten minutes.

Carl strikes a construction worker who destroys his mailbox, and before being forced by court order to a retirement home (more humor?), he floats his house away with thousands of helium filled balloons, which is really the best part of the animation. Once you've seen that, you've seen the best part of the artwork. There's a fat boy, Russell, fed on ice cream til he resembles "a tick about to pop" (to quote Jean Shepherd), who was under Carl's porch when this happens, tricked by Carl into a snipe hunt at night (more bad-natured attempt at humor), who is not only not attractive to look at but has not one funny line in ninety minutes of animation. (Ironically, this screenplay is Oscar-nominated; did they even see this film?)

To make matters worse, the film is full of the worst-animated and least funny dogs in film history. Give me Bruno from The Triplets of Belleville anyday - these dogs make one wonder if Pixar has ever even seen 101 Dalmations. I blame co-directors Peter Docter and Bob Peterson, who also co-wrote the terrible screenplay with about three mild chuckles (most involving Carl's elderly devices - there's a denture joke and a hearing aid joke - sound like more terrific comedy? believe me, it's as mediocre as it sounds). Even the big colorful bird running around, which they call Kevin, is not funny nor attractive looking as a character - it's just stupid and will only appeal to five year olds, who won't get the elderly humor. And don't get me started on Christopher Plummer's homicidal, self-centered adventurer character - totally despicable, never funny, and homicidal - a real "jungle fuerher"; what the heck were they thinking? Cruella De Ville (101 Dalmations) was classy, and an inspiration for Halloween costumes no doubt, compared to this monstrosity.

This film got lost trying to be an Indiana Jones adventure, only without even that much humor. The animation is just plain terrible for Pixar, nothing in the film is either unique, well-drawn, or funny. I can't believe they could ever sell any toys of these characters either, which I'm sure is their goal. Who's gonna want a fat kid in a boy scout uniform or a squat old man in a suit, with a walking cane? Watch Triplets of Belleville, for a hand-drawn masterpiece that got both points of classic animation: show us something unique in the artwork, and give us some funny characters. It has about 200 more laughs than this film. I was really looking forward to this movie - I loved Wall-E with a passion, and it should have been nominated for best picture in 2008. That film had a much better story, terrific animation (the robots on the loose, the spaceship tilting), much more creativity, and was far more touching as well - and made some hilarious comments about mankind, like "red is the new blue", causing everyone to instantly change their clothing color.

As for the 3-d realistic look, this is not even as good as either Toy Story, which were both even far below Nick Park's brilliant claymation series, Wallace and Gromit - four of those won Oscars® for Park, and if not for little or no competition, Up wouldn't win any, I'm afraid. WHY they didn't let Ellie survive to make this trip with Carl is beyond me - that would have made a much more likeable story as Ellie had 5 times the personality of boring and quiet Carl; that much was evident from the opening scenes of them as kids. If one had to die before this journey, it should have been Carl, not Ellie. I suppose kids and die-hard Pixar fans will like this, or at least say they do - but I'll wager that even most of them will be at least a little disappointed with this lackluster effort.

Pixar needs to get back to using imagination, and not resting on their software laurels. Just because they can now animate hair, or show all five fingers, that doesn't add to humor or make it artful. It's really impossible for any review of this to have "spoilers", as they've done that themselves. How this got nominated for best picture is beyond me - it must be on Disney's reputation or contribution to ads for the Academy Awards - especially when Wall-E and Finding Nemo were passed over.

[Note: I'm only reviewing this here because fans of animation should see this; and no doubt many easily pleased people will like it anyway - it's actually winning some critics awards for best animated feature, likely due to no competition. This film makes all the other Pixar and Disney films look great, so in that regard, it gives us something for comparison, making us appreciate the classics from Snow White, to Beauty and the Beast, Nemo and Wall-e, even Cars..]


HermanTurnip February 9, 2010 at 11:08 PM  

The wife and I cried like babies during this film. Why must Pixar toy with our emotions like that! ;-)

José Sinclair February 10, 2010 at 2:46 PM  

the first 10 minutes, yes.. then the best character, Ellie, was gone and the rest of the film was far below Pixar standards. Just compare the overall story to Finding Nemo and Wall-E.. I was just disappointed that the animation was so poor in this.. they think that because they can now animate individual hairs that it's somehow "better", but the dogs looked very stiff and had no character, the kid wasn't likeable at all ("a tick about to pop") and the old dude (Ed Asner) wasn't cute or humorous..

If you want to see touching, serious animation with an adult subject, check out "Grave Of the Fireflies", a Japanese feature about war orphans during WW2 - that's serious stuff, while "Up" didn't particularly succeed as comedy or drama..

If you like Up, you'll absolutely LOVE "The Triplets of Belleville", which has an elderly grandmother trying to find her son, and three aged former jazz singers (the triplets) who were obviously based on The Andrews Sisters.. that was very artistic and funny by comparison (see review below)

Derek Armstrong March 12, 2010 at 1:13 PM  

My biggest complaint: If you are going to make a movie about a house transported away by balloons, don't have the characters carry it around on their backs for 60 percent of the movie.

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