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Thursday, April 7, 2011

UP (2009)

The good folks @ Pixar Animation, led by helmer/co-writer Pete Docter, built themselves something of a stylistic trap on this one. UP gets off to a lovely start with a prologue detailing the ‘meet-cute,’ courtship, marriage & bittersweet life of the mated-for-life Fredricksons. Then we pick up the main storyline with Fredrickson, now a curmudgeonly widower, living by himself in his old house. Enter Stage Left: A very round, very pesky boy scout who insists on helping the old man . . . whether he wants help or not. It’s a relatively realistic storyline so far, and the animation style lets us ‘buy into’ the characters, settings & events. Then the balloons go up, the house lifts off, and we’re heading toward a wild adventure in South American! But our belief in what we see crumbles. Suddenly, we’re in cartoon-land where dogs talk & fly planes, logic comes & goes as needed to move the plot along, and character motivation gets trumped by the demands of the story arc. This really trips up Charles Muntz, the famous explorer we find in the Pampas. He was Fredrickson’s hero as a lad and now something of a Captain Nemo figure. His actions don’t add up; and neither does his age. He must be 100. UP remains an enjoyable romp, loaded with striking vistas, but even taken on its own terms, it starts to feel like a cheat. And the emotional investment made in the first couple of reels pays little dividend. Pity.

(The DVD comes with two shorts: DUG’S SPECIAL MISSION, a leftover from the main event, and the funny & adorable PARTLY CLOUDY, about a stork who has to deliver all the nasty baby beasts of the world.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Ed Asner does Fredrickson’s voice, but the look is pure Spencer Tracy; circa DESK SET/’57. That’s Christopher Plummer doing the vocals for the villainous Charles Muntz who looks a lot like Kirk Douglas when he did THE VILLAIN/’79., a sort of Live-Action Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote pic? Kirk was also in Disney’s excellent 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA/’54, but it was James Mason who got to play Nemo.

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