Archive for July 30th, 2011

By Bob Clark

When I reviewed the Pixar hit (a pair of words I’ve grown to begrudgingly accept as almost completely redundant) Up a few years back, I was taken aback by all the near-unanimous praise it was getting from the critical establishment, particularly for its opening scenes, depicting the passage of time from childhood to elderly years through the eyes of young lovers grown old in a wordless montage aiming to sum up the whole of all a lifetime’s worth of happiness and sacrifices. It wasn’t that I disagreed with their adulation of the sequence– indeed, it was one of the few things I genuinely liked about the film, especially after it fell into a rut of hand-me-down adventure escapades off in South America with an annoying boy-scout brat, the last of the do-do birds and an ancient explorer with an army of talking dogs and a zeppelin that looked as thought it were repurposed from the CGI demo-reel that is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Instead, it was because of how little most commentators were celebrating the rest of that opening act, particularly in the imaginative way it depicted an old man’s frustrations and fatigue with the crass modern world in ways that were equally entrancing and entertaining in the best ways that animation can afford. All too often we find ourselves settling for stories and characters that seek to affect us emotionally in animation, especially American animation, and especially animation from the American studio of Pixar, while doing little to affect us cinematically. It is possible to be moved to tears and bored to death at the same time.

But that’s why the whole of Up‘s first act really impressed me in the theaters, in the way it spun a simple, endearing fable of a crotchety old man who’s grown tired of the impersonal life of the big city grown up all around his tiny little house, and decides to take flight with an improbable bevy of helium balloons, setting sail on the air in his rustic old two-bedroom home and escaping the modern world of steel and glass towers and the destructive construction workers seeking to demolish everything in their path. For those first thirty-or-so minutes, Up became a great modern-day fairy-tale of a movie, the kind of magical realism that wouldn’t be out of place in a book by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (if he wrote in America) or the films of Frank Capra (if he had the budget to pull it off). As the house soared into the wild-blue yonder on the wings of so many multi-colored balloons, there was a hint of the same epic-scoped lucid dreaming that Bill Waterson routinely presented every Sunday in Calvin & Hobbes, with just the same kind of innocent, wide-eyed panorama of spectacular fantasy. Most of all, however, it reminded me of one of the other great works of high-concept animation depicting the trials and tribulations of the elderly in an increasingly hostile modern world, the 1991 anime cult-hit Roujin Z, a less marketable and less expensive successor to Katsuhiro Otomo’s groundbreaking Akira, but far in a way the superior work for any number of reasons.


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