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Friday, May 29, 2009

Up

May I just say that I am not found of the word "Up". I’m sorry, but it always gives me the willies. My therapist says it goes back to a very traumatic time in my life when my father, in another one of his schemes to get me out of the house, forced me to audition for that squeaky clean, All American, flag-waving, ever-smiling, so-close-to-Osmond-you-can-smell-the Mormon-all-over-them-just-by-being-in-the-room singing group called Up With People. Okay, so they weren’t actually Mormons, but close enough to be bearing some kind of religious affiliation and I didn’t want to use the word ‘cult’ so Mormon was all I could think of. Sorry.

I will admit that back then I was not always looking at the big picture, the wheel upstairs may have been turning but the hamster was definitely dead. Instead of botching my audition, I actually went all “Type A” and did my best, and the next thing I know I was on a bus with fifty or so fundamental Puritans singing such toe-tapping classics as “What Color is God’s Skin?” and “Freedom Isn’t Free.” Now I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these patriotic folks, but I related more to the music of The Sex Pistols than “Showboat/Goboat”, if you know what I mean. To put 1971 in a 2009 perspective, I was an Adam Lambert hijacked onto a busload of Kris Allens. Sure we did impressive things ~ we sang for The President. Unfortunately, it was Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon. That wasn’t the worst of it though.

The following year it finally seemed all the late night prayer circles, bad musical numbers, worse choreography, and day after day of getting a sore butt sitting on a bus with a group of chaperones so tight-assed they could polish quarters in their cracks was going to pay off. We were going to Munich, Germany! Off the bus and on a plane and better yet, we were going to the Olympics! Well, I guess you know how that turned out. We did sing, but it was hardly a happy occasion after the massacre of twelve Israeli athletes by a terrorist group called Black September. Instead of our usual peppy, perky, mind-numbing salute to America, we provided a somber concert in honor of those who were lost. It’s hardly the way a kid wants to remember their first trip abroad. God, what a nightmare. Fortunately, for Russell, the little boy who is at the heart of
Up, this is not anything like his experience. His first trip Up into the skies is may be equally memorable, but this time it is in all the right ways.

Up will definitely not let you down. Seriously, this has to be the best movie of the summer so far. I wasn’t quite sure I was ready for another 3-D animated film so soon after Monsters vs. Aliens. That movie wore me out with its 3-D battles and flying saucers zipping in and out of the screen. Between that and all the explosive nonsense dumped on me in Terminator Salvation last week I felt worn out and… well, dirty. I needed a complete change of pace, a vacation from the craziness of this summer’s blockbusters. No bleak futures, no mutants, and no errant time traveling Romulans. Enough already!

Finally, thanks to the folks at Pixar and Disney, that breath of fresh air is here.
Up is a treasure for the entire family, but, truthfully, I think it is so nuanced with heartfelt emotions about life, loss, and achievement that much of what writers and co-directors Bob Peterson (Finding Nemo) and Pete Docter (author of Wall·E; director of Monsters, Inc.) have included in the film will be too deep for kids to appreciate.

Up begins as an uplifting tale of an old codger named Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner; best known as tv’s “Lou Grant”). Carl’s life has been empty since his childhood love, Ellie (debuting Elie Docter), has died, leaving him alone after decades of loving companionship and happiness. Unfortunately, their marriage, like many, has had its challenges (laid out in a wordless yet emotionally moving montage) ~ along the way they found that their dream of having children wasn’t going to come true because Ellie was unable to conceive, and a long-dreamed-about trip Ellie had wanted to go on since she was a little girl never came to fruition because the expenses of daily life and unexpected accidents here and there continually depleted the fund they had set aside for their journey to Paradise Falls in South America. Now Carl is left alone to contemplate these losses and “what-ifs” from the front porch of his little house while construction of gigantic skyscrapers goes on all around him.

This is Carl’s other headache: that he is the only homeowner to not sell his house to a major builder, and so his house is surrounded by construction workers and annoyed contractors who have done everything they can to force the old man to sell. When a bulldozer accidentally hits his mailbox Carl retaliates by striking one of the workers with his cane, and soon we find Carl in court answering a summons for being a public menace. You can see why I’m not sure that kids are going get too attached to this movie early on. I saw the movie with two children under the age of ten and they had no clue what was going on nor did they care. One asked if the movie was almost over (it wasn’t even close) and the other was curled up in a ball spending as much time engrossed in her popcorn as she was in what was happening on-screen.

Granted, all of this expository information only took up the first fifteen minutes or so, but for kids
expecting fun, fun, fun, this is going to be a huge ADD disappointment. For adults, however, the layers of character development invested into a drawing of an old man that looks like Spencer Tracey at his Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner best pays dividends throughout the rest of the story, which takes flight the morning after Carl’s court date. That’s when Carl’s plans of resurrecting Ellie’s dreams take flight ~ literally, and the 3-D effects of the film are at their most beautiful. As anyone who has seen an ad for Up knows, Carl finds an ingenious way to take that trip to South America: he attaches a gazillion helium balloons to his house and lets it rip loose from its foundation and just fly Up and away into the clouds.

But what would this trip be without a bit of the unexpected thrown in for comedic effect (as well as to melt some of that crusty geezer’s hardened heart)? Enter Russell, the adorably buoyant ‘Wilderness Explorer’ in search of his “Assisting the Elderly” badge who just happens to have inadvertently hitched a ride with Carl on this airborne odyssey.

The chemistry between Asner and newcomer Jordan Nagai, who voices Russell with pure
innocence and enthusiasm, is palatable. It’s hard to imagine that they recorded their dialogue separately and weren’t actually acting off of one another because the evolving love between them is so natural you’ll barely notice it until it grabs your own heart late in the film when Russell opens up about his own circumstances (without being specific enough for the kids in the audience to “get” it). The kids will be too preoccupied anyway mesmerized by the antics of a couple of sidekicks Russell picks up along their way, an enormous brightly-colored bird he names Kevin and a talking dog named Dug (voiced by Up’s screenwriter Bob Peterson).

Of course there is a whole other tale attached to the dog who can talk, and he comes with a lot of complications for Carl, Russell, and (especially) Kevin that they never expect until they are deep into the middle of them, but I’ll leave you up in the air guessing about all that until you see the movie for yourself. After all, there has to be some mystery for you to experience on your own.

On that note, you need to stand
Up now, get Up out of that chair, stop whatever you’re Up to, and pick Up your pace to get on Up to the Essex Cinemas or Cumberland 12 to see Up in Real 3-D. You’ll find it an Uplifting and Uproarious experience.

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