Tuesday, June 9, 2009

(Ellie) Up

I wanted to put in a review of Russ Meyer's Up! as a gag, but I can't find my copy. Up is the story of an old fart who was once an adventure-loving boy who married an even more adventurous girl. Their dreams were not to be, and after her passing he decides to go seek their childhood hero in the lost world of Paradise Falls, house and all. With Russell the hapless Wilderness Explorer stowing along, oh the places they'll see!
You'll be crying and laughing so much you'll think a mime carrying a puppy got hit by a steamroller. A lot's already been written about this movie, and I'm a total Pixar fanboy (other than Cars- and I would have loved that as a kid) so I hate to spout the usual "they've done it again," but they really have. It's so different from Ratatouille, WALL-E, and The Incredibles that it's amazing that it apparently came from the same brainstorming session.
The movie begins with a newsreel at an old movie, telling us of adventurer Charles Muntz and his discovery of Paradise Falls in South America. A young boy wearing a helmet and aviator goggles is obviously a big fan, and he walks home making airplane noises, lost in a daydream world. This reminded me a lot of myself, except I'd be saying KAPOW!! and driving my rocket-powered Lotus Esprit with laser cannons. Carl, the boy, passes a boarded-up house and inside, finds another helmet and goggled girl, named Ellie. She's an infectiously curious and daring tomboy with rat-a-tat patter. We immediately like her, and so does the boy. After a brief but very touching silent montage, we meet Carl Frederickson as he is today- a cranky, creaky old man with a quad-cane, the last holdout in his neighborhood who won't sell to the developers.
Now, before I go on about Russell the Wilderness Explorer, and how he and Carl end up flying his house to another continent, let's talk about Ellie. NPR has a great point with their article on Up. Where's HER movie? She's so likable, with her Adventure Book, chipped front tooth and unruly hair that we don't just expect, we demand that Carl marry her and grow old with her. She could definitely carry her own movie. We haven't had as strong a female character in a Pixar movie since Cowgirl Jessie in Toy Story 2. Though Elastigirl in The Incredibles was a nice change of pace, as a believably self-reliant character. After all, she ends up rescuing Mr. Incredible!
Girls need characters other than princesses to obsess over as children, and Pixar is in a unique position to provide one; they've given us Eve the kickass ovoid robot, Jessie the Cowgirl, Elastimom... but never a star. It's high time they did. But enough about that. Up is great fun. Ed Asner plays the curmudgeonly Carl Frederickson, who finds plump plucky Russell at his doorstep one morning, eager to earn his Assisting the Elderly badge. So he sends him on a snipe hunt. Most of these jokes come back later, and when the balloon-festooned home arrives in the lost world of Paradise Falls, there's a whole 'nother snipe hunt going on.
But the story is so inventive that I don't want to ruin it for you. If you've seen the trailer, you'll know there's a talking dog; he has a collar that translates for him. And the inner workings of the dog mind are very funny, often in the background behind another amusing conversation between Russell, who still has the sense of wonder and adventure, and Carl, who is trying his darnedest to recapture it by bringing the home he and Ellie lived in to the place they dreamed of going.
There is plenty of adventure to be had, but like many of Pixar's stories, there is a solid foundation of character to give emotional power to it. It may be one of their strangest stories yet, but it's great fun- almost an Indiana Jones tale with a minor and a senior. It looks like Pixar has made children go see a story about a crotchety old man; now they just need to give us a lead heroine, and end this princess nonsense. They love Studio Ghibli so much, take a hint from Spirited Away, they don't all have to be princesses. Cough, well there was Princess Mononoke...
UP has plenty for both kids and adults. The kids behind us got a little restless but didn't mind the PG rating- which does include a little blood and plenty of exciting peril.

5 (dead) squirrels out of five

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