WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Pixar makes it ten gems in a row with this enchanting animated story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen a recent widower who decides to fulfill his (plus his late wife’s) lifelong dream of tying thousands of balloons to their house and floating off to a mountaintop in South America. But he soon discovers a stowaway in the form of Russell a precocious eight-year-old “Wilderness Explorer” who he reluctantly allows to accompany him on his journey. Together the unlikely pair embark on the adventure of a lifetime encountering Kevin a rare 13-foot tall-flightless bird; Dug an overly-friendly talking pooch; and Charles Muntz a once-famous adventurer who now lives alone in a massive airship surrounded by a pack of attack dogs.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sticking to their general custom of casting actors not big stars in key voice roles Pixar assembled a superb cast for Up led by veteran TV star Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as the aged Carl who takes flight in his house and finds there is a lot to learn about life even as you near death. Asner’s grumpy delivery provides the perfect counterpoint to nine-year-old Jordan Nagai’s Russell a bright and optimistic kid who proves an invaluable assistant to Carl throughout their journey. Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is authoritative and intriguing as the obsessed Muntz and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) extends his streak of Pixar films to 10 as a construction engineer who tries to convince Carl to sell his house. Bob Peterson does delightful double duty as two of the key dog voices lovable Dug and the menacing Alpha head of the pack.
Like Pixar’s previous Oscar-winning masterpiece Wall-E Up is a ‘toon that is not content to explore the same places we’ve seen in previous animated blockbusters. Centering an action comedy around a 78-year-old man isn’t a strategy you’ll find in the youth-obsessed Hollywood recipe book but it pays great dividends here with a moral that life’s greatest adventure is the one you share with someone you love. The non-humans — particularly Kevin and Dug — are hilarious and unique and a silent sequence detailing the courtship and marriage of the Fredricksens is a sweet touch that could have come straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie.
With a string of critically-acclaimed hits that includes Toy Story Finding Nemo The Incredibles Ratatouille Wall-E and now Up Pixar is ruining it for everyone else. There is simply no way they can be topped when it comes to pushing the boundaries of animated movies. Bad for other studios. Good for us.
Could Up which just became the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival also become the first to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar since Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (before the Animation category was even established)? At this point in the year it’s actually a good bet. Whatever the case expect Up to earn several nominations come Oscar time.
A swashbuckling swordfight across the skies between two near-octogenarians? It’s the best action scene in a summer full of ‘em.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Oh pleeeeeease! Get to a theater fast. Up is also available in 3-D at select locations. Either way it’s a must-see.
In an almost completely wordless first 40 minutes we meet the workaholic robot Wall E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) as he goes about the daily tasks--organizing an abandoned junk yard with remnants of what life was like before mankind was forced to leave earth (or die) in the 22nd century. Apparently no one remembered to turn his switch off so he continues to do his thing in the shadow of an eerily empty city. One day a spaceship lands and drops off a spiffy search robot named EVE (Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). EVE strikes up a touching even romantic relationship with little Wall E his first contact with anything or anyone (other than a pet cockroach) in about 700 years. When EVE discovers that Wall E may have come upon the living proof that Earth is once again inhabitable she blasts off to tell the humans aboard the Axiom--a massive shopping mall-like space station--that it may finally be safe to return home. Not wanting to let her go Wall E hops on during takeoff and blasts into the outer reaches of the universe where he experiences the surreal future and brings hope from the past. Be prepared to fall in love with the most engaging and original new movie star in ages. The extraordinary performance here is a robot who utters sounds not words and comes brilliantly alive through state-of-the-art CGI animation and expert vocal design by legendary sound wizard Ben Burtt (R2D2 of Star Wars). He makes this non-human love-struck piece of tin the most human element in the film. Wall E does not need words to express his understanding of affairs of the heart. In fact the early sequences in which he repeatedly watches an old video tape of the 1969 musical Hello Dolly (the only one is his obviously limited collection) we totally understand where his notions of romance come from--and from an 800 year-old semi-flop Hollywood movie no less. The trip into space brings encounters with some misfit robots as well as the rotund immobile humans competently performed by vets like Jeff Garlin as the ship’s captain Fred Willard John Ratzenberger Kathy Najimy and Sigourney Weaver as the ship’s computer. But the real acting voice-over prizes belong to Burtt and his sound design colleagues this time. Oscar take notice: Pixar has done it again. Co-writer/director Andrew Stanton won an Oscar for Finding Nemo and has worked in some capacity on just about every Pixar triumph from Toy Story; through last year’s Oscar winning Ratatouille. His creative need to stretch and explore uncharted ‘toon territory results in the offbeat Wall-E which abandons the talking creature formats for a surreal touching and environmentally-conscious love story. The film sets off alarms for the future of our planet but also offers hope that it’s not too late. Stanton’s most daring notion is to create almost a silent film for the first half and in so doing gives us an animated cinematic experience the likes of Chaplin Keaton and Jacques Tati would have loved. The achievement of keeping an audience glued to the screen watching incommunicative non-humans who learn to communicate and care for each other is no easy thing. Stanton creates beautiful visuals and a well-crafted story to go with them. This is one from the heart.
Leave it to Pixar to come up with another clever story. We are introduced to a thriving monster metropolis where Monsters Inc. employs an elite group of big bad guys to go into children's closets and gather the city's energy supply--the children's screams. But lately there has been an energy crunch; it seems kids are not getting as scared as they used to. Enter top Kid Scarer Mr. James P. Sullivan a.k.a. Sully (voiced by John Goodman) a big blue fuzzy monster who along with his assistant Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) a green one-eyed wisecracker gets potent screams from the kiddies. Unfortunately the one thing Sully Mike and the others are deathly afraid of is the children themselves. And when one child Boo (voiced by Mary Gibbs) makes her way through the closet door into the monster world things get decidedly complicated for Sully who learns kids aren't so scary after all.
Honestly how could you go wrong with the vocal talents of John Goodman Billy Crystal Steve Buscemi and James Coburn? In Monsters Inc. they absolutely shine. Oscar-winning Coburn brings the head of Monsters Inc. Mr. Henry J. Waternoose a crablike spidery monster vividly to life. Buscemi as the evil Randall Boggs a slimy serpent monster who can camouflage himself to blend with anything plays the perfect foil to Sully a monster with grand plans who rivals the big guy in the quota for kids' screams. Crystal is hysterical as Mike with enough neuroses and wild antics to offset the sweet Sully--without stealing the show. Even the little girl Boo comes across convincingly as a two-and-a-half-year-old especially when she sings in the bathroom. It's Goodman who makes the movie complete--his Sully is one big galoot you can wrap your arms around.
Pixar Animation must constantly search high and low for the cream of the crop in animation and story development; they never settle for second best. The studio has the Midas touch when it comes to computer-animated films--its three features so far Toy Story Toy Story 2 (still one of the best sequels ever made) and A Bug's Life have grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. Yes Dreamworks may have given Disney a run for its money with its spectacular summer blockbuster Shrek but Pixar isn't going to roll over that easily. Monsters Inc. is a wonderfully inventive film especially in its creation of such otherworldly settings as the factory and its assembly line of closet doors. The movie combines all the right elements--there's a good guy a funny sidekick a slimebag a climactic chase scene and an adorable reason for things to end happily.