Best Picture Profile: Up

Directed by: Pete Docter and Bob Petersen

Company: Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios

Runtime: 96 minutes

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The film is about Carl Fredricksen, an aged man in the brink of a dilemma as his ever-caring and adventurous wife just died. They plan to go to Paradise Falls while they are still young, but unfortunately, he had lost his will to go there when she died. He leads a lonely and somewhat bitter life after that, as he thinks the only reason of his life is already gone. He is also faced by the fact that construction owners want to buy his lot because he is the only one making an interference in the construction happening in the surroundings of his house. But even if the offer is high, he will always say no, as it is a treasure for him and his wife

An accident caused him to be put into court, and was suggested to go to a home for the aged. He had no other choice, even though it was painful for him to leave the house. All he has to do is to spend his time waiting for the people from the orphanage to pick him up.

While on his way to total isolation, he meets a pushy but definitely cute and optimistic scout, Russell. He wants to do something for Carl, as he already wants to complete the badges he need to have s a scout, and he would get the award by assisting the elderly. He tries to make Russell go away, but he’s too pushy for him. Carl suddenly tricks him to go away, and so he did.

As the men from the orphanage already came to pick him up, he releases thousands (or even millions) of balloons from his house, making his house fly. Now, he is now set to go to his destination – Paradise Falls. He loves the feeling of solitude up in the air. But he hears one knock from the door. There is Russell in the porch! Of course, he had no other choice but lo let him in. His grumpiness overcome the child’s natural curiosity at times, but he knows it wasn’t really a bad thing at all.

As they travel, a thunderstorm turns their smooth ride into something that almost killed them. As they wake up, they are already almost there. Here, another problem rises, as they were able to get out of the house, they cannot get into it, leaving the house carried by them as they walk to Paradise Falls. In their journey, they meet Kevin, a rare bird, Dug, a talking dog, and Charles Muntz, Carl’s favorite explorer. However, sooner he finds out that his favorite explorer could be the one that could kill him.

The direction is intelligent, so to speak. The whole movie is a movie about an adventure that could be rooted since Carl’s childhood, and the direction was able to play with that with a pacing that is very well-decided. It didn’t try to rush things, but also, it never slows down to a point that it bores you. Even if the film is about to give us comedic scenes, the direction still makes it on-the-edge, thus enhancing the excitement that we should all feel about this man’s story. The whole film is his adventure, and the directors choose to make every inspired choice in the story’s movement by attacking the film’s gut wrenching thrilling scenes with mastery.

In almost every animated film that I know, there is at least an exciting part. Up has a lot of them, but whenever you watch them, you know you are not just watching an action scene done as it is, but there is a big amount of creativity in each thrilling scene that it does feel that it is special. I also feel that in their scenes featuring the wilderness. Others may argue that some scenes in the forest are just a showcase of the animators’ prowess in making something beautiful to look at, but looking deeper into it, it is the directors’ way of moving the story forward without rushing the proceedings. It was able to compress the exposition of the setting and the development of the plot in those scenes that no single minute is wasted.

Above all of these is the direction’s way of handling the dramatic scenes. Those scenes were handled with subtlety and honesty that the emotional scenes of the film, for me, are the film’s best scenes. They move so gracefully, and these are the scenes where the film takes its time to have our own reflection on the character’s back story which plays a very vital role in the success of the film, and if you did not understand it, you will not be able to make any sense on Carl’s motives. The drama is still on-the-edge, and the excitement comes from the reality in these scenes. Those scenes did not involve fairies, or princes, we see an old couple. You can get the best dramatic scenes from reality, and the direction, with the help of the screenplay, makes it all real and we can simply identify to character for a very short period of time. It’s like ‘oh, I know you well.’ The film, as an adventure, lives up to the genre with its relentlessly gripping thriller.

The screenplay is fantastic. What makes me really enthusiastic about it is that it was mature. Mature enough to make me believe and root for its wonderfully written characters, mature enough to be able to pull off tears because of mature problems, mature enough for its issues concerning aging and life acceptable to younger audiences, and mature enough for me to make me care for it as a serious movie that achieves this certain height of emotional complexity that live action movies do.

First of all, the story itself is not about a child, or even child at heart. Here is an old man experiencing life crisis. We see his gradual separation from the happiness of his life because of the death of his wife. And it’s a serious part of his life. Of course, I liked how the screenplay lightened it up with some laughs which are intelligently placed and, undeniably, far from offending. It doesn’t make jokes about the wife’s death or his emotional condition, and the thing is, it doesn’t make jokes. The humor of the film lies on Carl’s way of reacting to the situation. It is his change of attitude from being cheerful to being grumpy and on how he faced the people around him with bitterness that makes it funny.

But for the rest of the movie, the screenplay’s strength flourishes with the exchange of words between Carl and Russell. Carl thinks Russell is just an addition to the problem, but Russell doesn’t know that. Russell sees everything as an adventure, something to explore. Their views about life greatly differ, but it is on their interaction that makes this film certainly remarkable. It gives us a very good question – how will two people of very different views about life and even age stay together for days if they are alone together? And it doesn’t answer it directly. Instead, we are able to listen to the various exchange of words between the two.

Their isolation marks Carl’s biggest character development. He realizes that he cannot do it without Russell. Russell gives the flavor in this point in his life. And what does he do? He reaches to another human being. That’s the first step that he takes as this man to make a connection. He knows he cannot live without connections right from that part. And when he encounters these several animals that befriended him, it adds up to his realization of the fact that he simply cannot be alone. I don’t know if I said it all well, but what we have here is an emotionally rich screenplay charged with the energy and reality to make a very effective adventure movie with a heart.

The cinematography, or on how the scenes were captured, were just stunning o see. It offers a vivid perspective on how we see Carl’s life. The tone of the color used in the scenes, especially in the opening scenes, are brilliant. It’s the happiest and the “homiest” scenes of the film. Those scenes gives a sense of nostalgia and age. We see how he gets old, and the shots perfectly capture the feeling of it. Alas, some of the more memorable shots come when the adventure starts. The shot of the house flying in the level of the clouds is an image to remember. When we see the Paradise Falls for the first time, and for the last time, just sticks into our memories. It’s a beautifully rendered film, in terms of the visual part. The lush blending of colors are all played out well.

The editing is close to perfection. The editor knows that there are scenes that could be short, but the impact wouldn’t be lessened. For example, the simple scene where Carl’s wife fixes his tie. In that very short scene, we see a passage of time in that. The film didn’t rely on effective but totally over-used fades as a sign for transition. It avoided the clichés, and the film’s most remarkable achievement in terms of editing is the montage of Carl and his wife. It’s simply a well-put montage with the genius if the editors put to it. The sound is very good. It was able to make the wilderness and the adventure more “real”. Just take a look at Dug’s leash as an example. The language change was continuous as Russell switches it continuously, and it’s all genius.

The musical score is the year’s best, undoubtedly. Michael Giacchino was able to pull off such melodious and thrilling pieces of music for the film that the music was a character in the movie itself. The music is the ‘someone’ who is with Carl even if he is alone. It is his persona, the music. The music in the film creates the epic feeling suited for it. The piece “Married Life” is the zenith of the music’s brilliance. I just seconds, it was able to immediately change moods and immerse us into different kinds of emotions. It’s arguably the single best written piece of instrumental in years. “Carl Goes Up”, the one played in the freeing of the balloons, did not only play in harmony with the epic freeing of the balloons, but it is in fact Carl’s freeing of his soul. “Stuff We Did” cannot stop from making me cry, as it just plucks your heartstrings so powerfully that if you’re not going to cry to it, you’re a stone.

Giacchino proves to us the power of music in films. He proves to us through his wonderful composition that music is indeed one of a movie’s life-givers and one to the key to its over-all impact to the masses.

The voice work is a great one, too.  As the grumpy old man Carl, Edward Asner was able to use his voice as a channel of emotions for he character. He may be tough, he may be rough, as you can hear in his voice. But when he speaks, and exhales, you know that the guy is vulnerable. The layers of the characters are placed in his voice throughout. He speaks that somehow, he needs someone because he is disappointed and laden with sadness. And Asner proves that he can use his voice to do just that.

Jordan Nagai is wonderful as Russell. He comes of as high-pitched and really cute, but never irritating. The childhood is celebrated in his character, and he was able to convey that through his voice. Another wonderful thing, too, is that he never sounded miscast. Anyway, the character that he plays is jolly and it’s a child, but he has feelings, too. The joy that he feels when he feeds Kevin with the chocolate, or his angry determination to go back to the airship to get Kevin is all well-played out in his voice.

Christopher Plummer is deliciously villainous as Muntz. In his first scene, he sounds like a very inspiring and soulful explorer. That alone convinces us to the truth established in the film that Carl admires him. Plummer evokes trust in his voice before he unleashes his demonic attitudes. He’s the old guy that I have been inspired of to travel to Paradise Falls – that is the challenge that the character carries in his first scenes with Carl. Of course, he goes evil due to his selfish intentions of getting Kevin alive. And it’s not just about getting angry. The desperation that clings in his voice is wonderfully realized by Plummer, and he does make a delicious villain.

To simply sum this up, Up was magical. It never tried to bring us to an another world. It was ambitious in its objective of making this story real. And it succeeds. When we have great direction, smart screenplay, lush animation, flawless editing, delicious sound, majestic music score, and high-class voice acting, what would you ask for more?

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

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5 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: Up

  1. I think it is great looking technically. I am mixed on the artistry I think some of it looks great, but some designs were a little annoying looking to me. I think it was fine, despite the fact it has many of the problems of modern animated features which always bother me. The annoying characters, obvious jokes, and pointless action scenes. I think Up has all of these problems but I think it is still was okay.

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  2. I actually did not say there were pointless characters just annoying ones, like Russell whose shtick got old fairly quickly for me, and Kevin was not very endearing for me. Also I just was annoyed by the designs of the side characters at the beginning such as their head shapes and such.

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    • I didn’t notice that the”pointless” refers to the action scenes, not to the characters.

      Yeah, the design of the characters were deliberately like that. I can see why you can be annoyed by it. I understand that.

      Anyway, did you like the music for Up?

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