The 3D boom in Hollywood continues with the film Up, the latest addition to Pixar’s canon of works. The film follows Carl Fredricksen(Ed Asner), a retired balloon salesman whose life has lost all meaning since his wife, Ellie, passed away. Ever since they were young both Ellie and Carl dreamed of seeing the world like their childhood hero, the famous explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). After a violent altercation with local developers, the court sentences Carl to live the rest of his days at the Shady Oak retirement home. On the eve of going to Shady Oak, Carl decides to honor a promise he made to Ellie years ago and literally fly his house to South America. It is only when Carl is up in the air does he realize that a local boy, Russell (Jordan Nagai), has unexpectedly become part of the adventure.
Although Up is a cute and enjoyable film, I could not help but feel a little under-whelmed during segments. The animation is great as usual and the story is engaging enough to a point. Yet it becomes obvious rather quickly that there is no real reason for this film to be in 3D. The film would have worked just as well, probably even better, in regular 2D format. Pixar has routinely set the bar when it comes to innovation in animation. So when you hear that a Pixar film will be in 3D you have a certain level of expectation. Yet the uses of 3D effects in Up is very subtle, and does not do much to enhance the already stellar animation. I am not saying that the effects must out weight the plot because it should not. Dreamwork’s Monsters vs. Aliens is a perfect example of how having too much of one thing can ruin a movie. That picture had fantastic 3D visuals but was undone by the extremely weak plot. Yet there should still be enough of a balance to justify the audience paying more to see 3D films; especially when they can get the same emotional and visual impact from the 2D version.
Another quibble I had with this film, although it was a minor one, was that the emotional impact of the beginning gets diluted towards the latter half of the film. The standout part of the film for me was how well they conveyed the 60 plus year relationship between Carl and Ellie in 15 minutes or so. By time Ellie passes away we genuinely feel sympathy for Carl; it as if we knew Ellie personally. The only other time you come close to this in the rest of the film is when Russell talks about his father. Yet these moments are brief and are usually followed by some form of comedic distraction. This, at times, makes Up come across like a version of Dennis the Menace; where the grumpy old man has to deal with the well meaning, but troublesome, kid and pets. Sure there are plenty of fun moments for adults to enjoy but the overall tone for the most part skews more toward kids than adults. Ultimately you walk out of the film saying “it was cute fun” oppose to “wow Pixar hit another one out of the park”. This is not a bad thing by any means but, after a string of films that include The Incredibles, Wall-E or Ratatouille, Up falls somewhere in the middle of the Pixar canon for me. I would even go as far as saying that Coraline is still the best animated film so far for 2009…and I saw that in regular 2D.
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