"Up": A crotchety man and his flying house will defy the skeptics
With "Up," Pixar continues to lead the way in Hollywood, putting storytelling first.
The Baltimore Sun
"Up" reviewSeattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald calls Pixar's "Up" a lighthearted adventure movie — and heartfelt portrait of two lives spent as one. The movie opens at several area theaters and is available in 3D in selected theaters. Rated PG. Read the review on Page 3.
Disney-Pixar promotes "Up" with balloon rides at Gas Works
The legend goes that when Walt Disney looked for a distributor for his Mickey Mouse cartoons, mogul Louis B. Mayer reacted with horror at the amiable rodent. How could you turn a mouse into a comic hero? Pregnant housewives would stare at the creature on the screen and miscarry right in the theater, Mayer predicted.
Of course, Mickey eventually became the mascot and mainstay of Disney's own studio.
So it's poetic justice that the art of upsetting conventional wisdom with original ideas has fallen to Disney's heir, John Lasseter, the creative chief of Pixar and the head of Disney animation.
Inevitably, the bean counters and tea-leaf readers who are quoted on the business pages were just as aghast at the prospect of a rat hero in Pixar's "Ratatouille" as Mayer was said to be at Mickey Mouse. Maybe the idea of a rat working as a chef evoked, sight unseen, a similar primal disgust.
But pundits had earlier been quick to cast doubt on "Cars." A version of "Local Hero" starring a high-speed auto? How misbegotten and outre. (Thanks to the toys spun from its characters, it actually turned out to be Pixar's most profitable picture, and one of its best-loved.)
And let's not forget that before a squat trash compactor and a svelte droid became America's — no, Planet Earth's — sweethearts, wiseguys were also quick to cast doubt on whether Pixar could continue its winning streak with "WALL-E." Wasn't it just going to be a cross between "Short Circuit" and "E.T."? With 25 minutes of silence? Come on.
The snickers started for the studio's latest masterpiece, "Up," almost as soon as word leaked out that the hero was a grumpy old widower who sets his house afloat with helium balloons and goes on an adventure. Who in a cartoon's target audience would want to see an animated spectacle about an octogenarian on a balloon trip?
But as the director and co-writer, Pete Docter, told Creative Screenwriting magazine, he realized that an elderly character treated three-dimensionally could be an asset as an animated protagonist.
A man who's been through what "Up's" hero, Carl Fredrickson, has experienced — the total unmooring of his life after the death of his wife and childhood sweetheart — earns the right to be crotchety right from the outset, an asset for farce as well as melodrama.
More importantly (and deeply), he possesses a whole life full of stories that resonate with different age groups. When Carl connects with a young Wilderness Scout named Russell who stows away on his flying house, small kids who still see adults as aliens will howl with delight. Kids just about Russell's age will be curious, as Russell is, about Carl's many crotchets and tarnished pearls of wisdom. Adults will react with sympathy, even empathy.
Docter works at the one American studio that honors story and holds it paramount. Pixar is also a director-driven studio that doesn't rely on executives' condescending notions of audience expectations or the slanted reactions of recruited focus groups.
When will the rest of Hollywood learn Pixar's lessons? When will people realize that "conventional wisdom" is rarely wise at all?
Hollywood may be sure to pull in a certain tidy sum with a Kate Hudson or Matthew McConaughey comedy or Nicolas Cage slumming in another comic book or fantasy film, but these movies are just killing time in every way. They build no legacy for the art or the industry and leave no feelings of love or loyalty in an audience.
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