by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino
Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: Our Pixar series continues with 2009’s Up, directed by Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Inside Out, Soul), which tells the story of an elderly man named Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner) who loses his wife and best friend, Ellie, during the film’s much-acclaimed opening sequence. With land developers eager to take his property, Carl airlifts their home via balloons to the exotic locale of Paradise Falls. A young stowaway named Russell (Jordan Nagai) tags along unexpectedly and Russell and Carl share in a number of adventures, including making friends with a bird named Kevin and a talking dog named Dug. All is well until Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a disgraced adventurer and Carl’s childhood hero, plots to apprehend Kevin to reclaim his reputation by any means necessary.
It’s hard to talk about Up without first discussing the film’s beloved opening sequence showing the full span of Carl and Ellie’s relationship. It’s a montage people often say makes them sob. I’m not one of those people, but I do like the opening stretch of Up quite a bit. Much of that has to do with composer Michael Giacchino’s scoring of the sequence. It works in the way a good, mopey pop song does, where it’s designed to pull at your heart strings without remorse to extract tears. My only issue with the opening scene of Up is that the movie peaks and never reaches this height again. I enjoy the bookend near the film’s conclusion where Carl goes through Ellie’s My Adventure Book and sees what she included that he didn’t know about. That’s a really sweet moment. I also enjoy the surrogate father-son relationship between Carl and Russell. But in between all of that is (for me) long stretches of wandering and action nonsense. Paradise Falls is boring, there’s talking dog henchmen that aren’t as funny as I think I’m supposed to think they are (except Dug, who is adorable), and the whole Charles Muntz subplot feels perfunctory. Up is good enough, but it’s nowhere near my favorite Pixar movies. BTW...we’re ten movies into this series, so we should probably rank the Pixars we’ve covered thus far at the end of this review.
What do you think of the film, Rob?
And then the whole thing turns into a fucking DreamWorks Animation talking dog adventure? What is this shit?
Rob: I mean, Carl learns to put up with the kid, and the pair form an unlikely bond, and you know, sure. That’s fine. But almost any other Paradise Falls adventure would have been more interesting and thematically resonant than Christopher Plummer’s Isle of Dogs. Carl learns that his childhood hero has gone mad with bird rage? That’s the plot? I mean, parts of that work: Carl sets off on this adventure because he refuses to leave the home he and Ellie shared, and it’s literally a millstone around his neck for most of the movie. It’s, I don’t know, tangentially similar to Muntz’s obsession with finding the bird and clearing his name? Both guys have to let go? But out of everything set up in the first ten minutes, this is what we’re going with?
Rob: Right! And even allowing for that minor connection, so much of Up is spent dicking around in the jungle and playing with voice-modulating dogs that we lose track of what any of this has to do with Carl. This is an unprecedented level of bad storytelling from Pixar, and I’m finding it hard to believe that the first ten and subsequent eighty minutes were made by the same people. I read a little background on the movie’s development, but I still can’t decide if there were too many cooks in Up’s kitchen or not enough. Did this one just get away from them? Is this the first real victim of the hubris we’ll eventually come to know (and sometimes love)? I really don’t know. Also — and this is no disrespect to Ed Asner — it was really jarring to hear Carl’s gravelly voice for the first time. I know he’s supposed to be an irascible old man, but something about the way the character was portrayed in the opening made me think he would have more of a gentle hang-dog quality. I don’t know. That’s not a real critique, I guess. That’s just me.
Is there anything else in Up really worth talking about? Even the animation feels pedestrian when compared to something as textured as WALL-E.
Adam: I’m glad you brought up Ed Asner as Carl, because I have the same gripe that I don’t see how child Carl became elderly Carl. In the prologue, Carl is seemingly a meek, big-hearted kid. He then marries the love of his life and spends decades with her. Maybe I’m speaking from my own unmarried experience, but that sounds pretty great. Ellie didn’t die at age 30 or something. Of course, elderly Carl would be sad he lost Ellie, but wouldn’t he be sad but still friendly and not a bitter old man acting like his whole life was a disappointment because he never took his partner on a specific vacation? The best I can come up with is losing the house felt like losing her again and that’s why he’s such a curmudgeon.
Rob: Exactly. Even that device where he’s constantly talking to the house as if it’s Ellie doesn’t really work because it’s not framed in any kind of real context at the start. I don’t know. I was so disappointed with Up. I’m sure this will upset some people, so let’s just wrap this up.
Rob: These seats are reserved.
Rob’s Updated Pixar Rankings:
Toy Story 2
A Bug’s Life
Adam’s Updated Pixar Rankings:
Toy Story 2
A Bug’s Life