Up - Blu-ray Review

'while kids may gloss over it, anyone slightly older certainly won't and if you don't have a small tear in your eye during at least one of the montages at the start then you've either watched far too much soppy stuff in your time or far too little'

Up is pretty representative of what Pixar are so good at. Take something that in the film's own terms is relatively normal (an old man, a robot, a fish), put them in an extraordinary situation (dislocation, need to get somewhere, persecuted), add in a comedy side-kick and some emotion and watch the whole thing play out in glorious technicolour animation. The formulas above are varied but simple (from just those few words people will probably recognise Up, Wall.E, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles), the Pixar magic is in taking that core intellectual stock and turning it into something truly memorable with a visual flourish here and a dab of clever wit there, a fact never more apparent than in Wall.E's near silent opening half.

With Up, Pixar haven't strayed too much from their tried and tested way forwards but again they've managed to imbue it with a sense of esteem and value, sadly lacking from other 'kids' films. The 'normal' people this time are Carl Fredricksen and Russell (Edward Asner and Jordan Nagai respectfully) a reluctant duo thrown together when their own extraordinary situation (Carl's house floating towards South America) literally takes off. Along the way they meet their comedy side-kick in Dug (Bob Petersen) a talking dog who must help them rescue Kevin (Pete Docter), a rare bird being sought by Christopher Plummer's mad adventurer.

Like all Pixar films Up doesn't hold back on wearing it's emotional cards on its sleeve and knowing that the protagonist is an elderly man, no-one should be surprised to find the opening ten minutes of the film dealing with The Harsh Facts Of Life. While kids may gloss over it, anyone slightly older certainly won't and if you don't have a small tear in your eye during at least one of the montages at the start then you've either watched far too much soppy stuff in your time or far too little. It's undeniably a heart-wrenching few moments but I couldn't help feeling that I was being manipulated by the film makers a little too much, rather than just reacting to what was happening on screen.

Once Carl and Russell make it to the jungle the proper Pixar fun really starts with Docter's annoying by sentimental bird and Petersen's slightly bonkers and overweight dog leading most of the laughs. There are some standout moments here and Kevin mimicking Carl's movements is particularly hilarious. The core of the film, leading up to when Carl and Russell meet barmy villain Charles Muntz is when Up is at its strongest and everything you expect from the studio comes to the fore.

As soon as Russell and Carl step foot on Muntz' gigantic blimp though, there is a turning point in the film and I'm sorry to say that for me, this was the point when Up started showing signs of weakness. For a start, the structure is way off balance with far too much time being given over to the good vs evil battle and final third chase sequence. Suddenly many of the laughs and carefully character driven plotting slowly drain away and we're instead reduced to a fairly standard mid-air battle between apparently stock characters, albeit elaborately constructed with dart-shooting flying dogs. Brilliant character creations (notably Dug and Kevin) seemingly stop being developed and as a result stop having much presence, humorous or otherwise, both becoming relegated to near plot devices, especially in Kevin's case. The final third of Up could have been taken out of any animated film going and I don't think it showed off Pixar's strengths to the same degree as its opening half or so.

Up definitely had a hard act to follow, coming as the real spiritual sequel to Wall.E (I'm not counting Bolt) and it's unfair to compare the two. However, on this occasion, whilst recognising Up isn't a bad film, Lasseter et al do seem to struggle to invigorate and occasionally reduce themselves to emulation, a criticism that I just couldn't level at the little silent robot. I'm not saying Up is a bad film (it's not), quite the opposite in fact and at times it's Pixar on top form producing a riotous, hilarious ride with zimmer frames. But I was left wanting more and the neglection of Dug and Kevin as characters in their own right spoke volumes for where I felt Up, albeit slightly, let itself down.




Look further...

'Up doesn't mesh, and specifically the boundless optimism of Russell's character grinds against the depressing reality of Carl's life in a most unsatisfying way' - Den Of Geek (Mark Pickavance), 3*

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