Up: Write Your Review

By

I sat in the theater Friday night waiting for the lights to go down and I pondered the possibility that UP might be Pixar’s first flop.   I’ve come to feel about that moment when the Pixar logo appears much the same as I once did about the glittering green of a Lucasfilm logo.  When it flashes up on the screen, the theater quiets and I can almost hear someone bending low to pull the covers up around my chin and whisper, “Ssshhh, I’m going to tell you a story—and this is one of the good ones.”

Ten years ago I realized that the Lucasfilm icon of my youth had tarnished and lost its glitter and become no more than the color of money.  So once bitten and twice shy, I enter the cinema halls of story and light with more skepticism than I once did.

I watched the crowd filter in and find their seats and I wondered at what an eclectic pilgrimage they were.  Young boys and girls came hand in hand all covered in blushes, laughter and delight.  They came in families, by the dozens, herding children with candy and eyes peeled wide.  Groups of young men sauntered in adorned with attitudes like costume jewelry, their pants slung low and clattering with chains.  Elderly couples stepped down the aisles deliberate and slow to settle themselves patiently into their seats.  The middle-aged, the old-aged, and the barely aged at all filled the theater and hushed to hear the whisper when the lights went low.

What a privilege it is to have the trust of your audience.  Such is Pixar’s legacy that people who would otherwise turn up their nose at a mere ‘cartoon’ came in droves to fill the house based on the trust of a studio’s name alone.  It’s a precious and delicate thing and with each successive film I fear the spell will finally shatter.

But UP isn’t a flop.  The integrity of the Pixar name is well intact and may it be so for years to come.  There’s nothing I can write here that can say more eloquently what has already been said in theaters across the country.  UP’s reviews are written in a communal grammar built of gasps, and happy tears, a language filled with the sighs of the long-lived, the breathless wonder of cynics like me, and best of all the laughter and joyous exclamation not only of children but of those who dare to come and sit in the darkness and hear the storyteller’s whisper and remember how to be child-like once more.

So if UP moved you the way it did me then I hope you’ll tell us how.  It’s UP (har har) to the audience to write this review.

Profile photo of Pete Peterson

Pete Peterson is the author of the Revolutionary War adventure The Fiddler’s Gun and its sequel Fiddler’s Green. Among the many strange things he’s been in life are the following: U.S Marine air traffic controller, television editor, art teacher and boatwright at the Florida Sheriffs Boys Ranch, and progenitor of the mysterious Budge-Nuzzard. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jennifer, where he's the Executive Director of the Rabbit Room and Managing Editor of Rabbit Room Press.


44 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Two quick things to say about this movie:

    1) It was totally clean. As far as I remember, there wasn’t one sexual innuendo and not one word even my grandmother would’ve been offended by. This movie proves that you don’t have to be crude to be funny.

    2) This may sound silly and/or melodramatic, but this film made me love my wife a little more. How in the world did these folks make a film that was a comedy, an adventure, a work of art, AND an ode to marriage? For that matter, how often does a film these days guilelessly portray a long, rich marriage?

    What a blessing it is that movies like this are still being made.

  2. Greg

    I’d definitely agree with Andrew Peterson’s potentially silly/melodramatic #2: it made me love my wife, or want to love my wife, a little more. Of all Pixar’s films, I think this one is the most emotionally gripping. There possibly may be more insteresting story lines elsewhere, but after that montage of Carl and Eddie’s life together, I cared so deeply about these characters and I felt like I was in the story with them.

    Another interesting thing to me was the pacing. Even though a “cartoon” movie, UP didn’t feel rushed or ADD, as some animated films can get.

    I always love how Pixar subverts the common kid’s movie morality or storytelling, and this was no exception. Giving up your dreams? How often do we hear, “hang on to your dreams and believe in yourself”? Yet this little Disneyism would define the bad guy in UP, not the good guy. Finding the right desires and living out of them, now that’s not as one-dimensional, but that’s life.

    Oh yeah- I liked it.

  3. kevin

    Honestly, it’s hard to be pessimistic about this movie with all this shellacery…

    I’m so tired of re-hashed animated film, especially ones with animals in them. But I guess I’ll have to take back all the sarcasm I gave my wife about the preview, and take my family to see it today. Now I just have to decide on 3-D or not.

  4. Marcus hong

    Andrew and Greg,

    I agree with you both! I held my wife’s hand throughout the entire movie and squeezed it several times, looked into her eyes blurrily and saw tears there too. But mostly we smiled through the whole thing. It definitely made me love my wife more.

    I also agree about the morality taught by the story. It is larger and more complex. It reminds me a bit of the flavor of G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy (a book I began reading upon the excellent recommendation of this fine website). In the first few chapters he discusses how the sane and the faithful have an enlarged and complex and open view of life that allows for the miraculous to happen, while the insane and the purely rational or skeptical are limited within their small circle of belief about one thing or one way. He ridicules the notion that believing in yourself is healthy and sane. I’m sure others could summarize his thought more completely than I.

    What thrilled me about the movie, other than the aforementioned ideas, was the obvious care taken in producing it. The people at Pixar are like potters, getting themselves dirty with the clay, lovingly forming it and working with their hands and hearts to make something simple, but complex, something useful that you can come back to again and again. They obviously love what they do, as much if not more than for the obvious benefits that they will reap from the picture selling well.

    I thought it was a beautiful piece, indeed.

  5. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Great idea Pete! I was wondering how we were going to review this film, figuring every one of the regular Rabbit Room writers would 1. want a crack at it and 2. not have any idea how to do it just on their own.

    Here’s a couple quick hits from where I was sitting.

    1. The little short about the storks and clouds before the film was an incredibly touching picture of grace– silly as all get out, but I couldn’t help feeling like I had just been told a fable about grace and mercy. And I think it was an excellent set-up to what was about to come in the “feature presentation,” as they used to call it.

    2. The opening montage of the man and his wife was one of the most well created bits of film-making I have ever seen, I think– at least as far as animation is concerned. I honestly can’t hink of anything that comes close to touching that. In the span of what couldn’t be more than five minutes, you walk through an entire marriage, it’s up’s and downs– real stuff too, not corny. Adn they do it all without saying a single word. Though we only got a few minutes with Carl’s wife, I felt like I knew her– like I would know what sorts of jokes would make her laugh, and how she’d respond if Carl lost his job– that sort of thing. I’m still not sure how Pixar did that. Amazing!

    3. I’m trying to imagine a career as a ballon salesman. How does one make a living at that?

    4. Ebert made this point abotu the film, and I think it bears mentioning. He wrote: “There are stakes here, and personalities involved, and two old men battling for meaning in their lives. And a kid who, for once, isn’t smarter than all the adults.”

  6. Benjamin Wolaver

    Several thoughts:

    1. I loved rooting for the old guy. Carl Fredericksen is one of the best animated leads ever.

    2. Pixar’s messages are often counter-cultural and Up is no different. The Incredibles pointed out that equality doesn’t trump individual excellence. Toy Story taught that true value lies in what your Maker thinks of you rather than what you think of yourself. Up takes the endless tragedies of elderly men and women who are cast off by society and shows that the elderly are not without value, but instead are irreplaceable in their role of guiding the younger generation.

    3. Between Carl’s marriage and Russell’s broken home, did anyone else think this was one of the most anti-divorce films ever?

  7. Jim A

    Absolutely brilliant film. This has to be Pixar’s best hands down!

    I went with lower expectations, obligingly taking my two daughters (3 & 6) and my wife. I expected comedy and hi-jinx but hadn’t heard or seen anything about the opening 15 minutes which included the “silent movie” life flashing past your eyes.

    It was like getting knocked over by a ton of bricks. Others above here have said it as well, that even though you only saw Elle (Carl’s wife) for a few minutes, she exuded such joy and happiness (even during the tough times) that you could tell she was that kind of person who understands at the very marrow of the bones of life what joy is. Yes, after that 5 minutes, she was someone you came to love. And that made her passing that much more sad. You could completely relate to Carl sitting on the steps contemplating what should to do now that the person you shared such joy with, no, someone who showed you such joy in life. Boy did I bawl.

    And I loved loved loved, how pixar kept her image of joy running throughout the rest of the film. So her little youthful face all in a big fat grin would remind you about what this adventure was about.

    It was also a stark reminder that sometimes we need to turn the page one more time and keep going on no matter what.

    Not to be lost was the youthful exuberance of Russell who, like many children, will point out the obvious truths that adults so often miss, without realizing how incredibly on target he was with his remark. I am almost certain something stirred in Carl when Russell said “you know, it’s funny, it’s the ordinary things I remember the most”. ahh, the ordinary. Dang did I loose it there. How often am I so tied up in trying to make “BIG MEMORIES” that I forget how awesome it is to make mudpies on the curb just outside Disneyworld, especially when the mud is just perfect.

    If I had one nit to pick about an otherwise gorgeous film (how about a soundtrack in an animation film that doesn’t try to take center stage but in retrospect you find so moving!) it would be this. When Muntz and Carl finally met in the cave near Paradise Falls, Muntz should have been about 100 at least, assuming Carl was in his 70’s. The looked to be the same age!

    That aside, this Pixar film will be in my head for many many months. Thank you Hollywood for a wonderful escape and a fairy tale of classical proportions.

  8. Chris Slaten

    About 3D vs. 2D

    So far Ebert is the only person I’ve heard of that did not recommend the 3D. Everything else that I have read about the difference between the two has suggested that the 3D was used not in a gimmicky way, but as yet another way to tell the story, similar to the lighting, sound, etc. For example, during the scenes where he is in his house the 3D is compressed in a way that is intended to make you feel more boxed in. During the scenes when they are flying or when there are vast landscapes the depth of field is stretched out dramatically so that the scene feels even more realistic. They refused to go for the typical in your face 3D experience. The 3D isn’t meant to wow, because they saw that as being too distracting; instead, it is meant to draw you in.

  9. Profile photo of Stephen Lamb

    Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    I’ve heard some recommend seeing it in 2D first, and then in 3D, which is what I’m planning on doing for my second viewing.

  10. Elizabeth

    I loved so much about this movie – especially the beginning. I totally admit that I was crying by the hospital scene. The only negative is that my 9 year old daughter sobbed through the dog attack and when Russel was tied to a chair on the ramp outside the zeppelin. Turned her head away and begged to leave. I was so disapointed with Pixar, every movie surprises me with how much I love it and I love a lot about this movie, but the violence – even The Incredibles, with people shooting at children didn’t feel as scary as this film. I don’t know if we will buy this one. It made me sad, if this is what we can expect from a Disney influenced Pixar.

  11. Gretchen Wolaver

    I think that UP is one of the best movies that Pixar has produced thus far. It was spotlessly clean, hilariously funny, and so so sweet. I cried every time that they had flashbacks to Elly and Carl’s married life. One of the things that I value and love most about Pixar’s films is how they cherish the family; it’s such a balm in today’s society.

  12. kevin

    Since my last name is not Peterson, which bears a curious resemblance to one of the writers and the voice of Dug, I can give a truly impartial opinion.

    I agree with everybody who said it is good. Very good.

  13. Paul Spooner

    Up is perhaps one of the greatest movies of our age.

    Composed of three brilliantly conceived and artfully interwoven movements, UP tells a story of broken promises, forgiveness, and high adventure. Without a doubt, it is a three part sonata, written to the tune of truth, and performed by the masters of our time.

  14. Greg

    For anyone wanting to get more into the art/characters of UP, here are two great places to go:
    Lou Romano, an artist on the movie has lots of production paintings, some of these are really beautiful:
    http://louromano.blogspot.com/2009/05/art-of-up_3697.html

    And the New York Times has an audio/visual art interview with Pete Docter and the production designer, Ricky Nierva, where they talk about the development of 4 characters and their look:
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/05/17/movies/20090517_UP_FEATURE.html

  15. Derek

    After reading these reviews, I feel like leaving work right now to go see it! I agree with Andrew’s comment about humor and that it doesn’t have to be crude to be funny. I often point to The Three Stooges when making this argument.

    I just have a couple questions about the movie. I would like to take my 4 1/2 year old daughter to see UP. Here are my questions:

    1) Is it too scary for a 4 year old?
    2) Is it a movie that can hold the attention of both an adult and a 4 year old?

    Thanks!

  16. Chris Slaten

    Here is a list of many of the “easter egg’s” hidden in up:
    http://www.slashfilm.com/2009/05/31/easter-eggs-in-pixars-up/

    The only thing I can think of that they didn’t mention was that the lights on the dog collars appeared to be intentionally reminiscent of the lights above the doors on Monster’s Inc, Doctor’s other full length feature.

    Also, on a video that comes with the soundtrack there is a clip of Pete Doctor playing the double bass as part of the orchestra that recorded the score.

    If you get hungry for more info about the movie
    http://www.pixarplanet.com/blog and pixarblog.blogspot.com are two very geeky pixar blogs with tons of material.

  17. Jill Phillips

    I saw this movie last night with all my kids ages 7, 4 and 2. My four-year-old really enjoyed the movie, though she was very sensitive to the sad parts. Being told I will cry usually keeps me from doing so, but I have to admit that I was crying about 10 minutes into the movie. Sheesh. I loved it. Storytelling at it’s best.

  18. Aaron Roughton

    Jill, did Andy cry? Because if Andy cried, then I might have cried a little too. But not as much as he did. If Andy didn’t cry, then I didn’t either. But I sure loved the movie.

  19. sd smith

    Amazing. Beautiful storytelling. Meaningful plot. Skipped the opportunity for Environmental preachiness and simply served the story. Well done. All the forms available used masterfully. Old man and fat kid for heros. A triumph.

    This was our first full family trip to the cinema. My kids, aged 6, 3, and 4 months. My wife and I. We’re saving the stubs. What an event.

    I told Gina (my wife) that it was very possible that we’ll never, all together, go see a film that good again for the rest of our lives.

  20. sd smith

    I forgot to mention, well, alot.

    But the thing that got me by the throat most was the provision of a Father for the Fatherless.

    “I’m here for him.”

    One of my favorite lines ever.

  21. Jim A

    sd smith. way to go. sitting here enjoying a nice happy evening, and you have to throw THAT line out there. took me RIGHT back to the scene, the “special badge”, the speech, the…. dang it…. gotta go get a hanky….

    whew, ok. that gives me chills. father for the fatherless. love it. Ellie would have been so proud!

  22. Andy

    Our first ever all family to the theater movie experience (the children are 7 & 4) and “the bad guy” scenes were tough for our youngest. She ended up in mom’s lap but made it through to learn again the lesson that no matter how dark, keep hoping and good will win in the end.

    The movie is a masterpiece as has been noted. I especially appreciated Carl’s having to leave behind the weight of the past to be free to fly into the next adventure. I loved his realizing that Ellie isn’t the house. And I was stunned by the skill of how they told the marriage story arc so beautifully without a word of dialogue. The makers treat their film as art and use all the tools appropriately. Words are left out when unneeded, and that is something that doesn’t happen much in modern film making and modern life. Too often there are simply too many words. Not in UP!

  23. David

    I took my wife, Miss Judy, and our 18 year old daughter last Sunday afternoon for the matinee, cheaper and opted for the 3-D. The visuals were great and added to the movie.

    The marriage story between Carl and Ellie did not make me love Miss Judy more, but as the tears quietly rolled down her face in the dark, it made me want to hold her hand more.

    A story about what marriage can be between two soul-mates, the desire for and value of a child that they could not have both pushed the ball down the field in the direction people these days need to see…especially young people.

    Furthermore, it was great that the movie did not whitewash the tragedy of kids without two parents in the home, and at the same time enabled Carl to step up and mentor/minister to Russell. Given the skyrocketing unwed mother statistics (20-29 year old) that recently came out. We are going to need to step up — or be swallowed up.

    Great movie.

    Blessings to all…

  24. Chris Whitler

    It could not have been better. Oscars should not snub this from the “best picture” category. I just got home from seeing it with my whole family. 2-D, 3-D doesn’t matter, it’s just good. Some practical advise, the glasses didn’t really fit my 3 year old girl so she saw a slightly fuzzier version but she still loved it. Families with small children may want to stay with the 2-D version.

    I feel Pixar goes right to the edge of scary and then relieves you at just the right time with humor or warmth. So glad movies like this still get made. It can be good AND make money without dumbing down to the lowest common denominator.

  25. Jayson

    Wow. A movie should not get this much positive review without a cranky critic entering his 2 cents. I did NOT like UP. Maybe it was the mood I was in, but the artsyness and sentimentality didn’t do it for me. I wanted an interesting and/or funny story and a clear message. I couldn’t really figure out what this movie was trying to tell me.

    “Life’s an adventure?”
    “Life’s an adventure even when you’re old?”

    Neither of these are particularly novel.

    I guess I’m still waiting to have that same choked up feeling I got when Lightning McQueen put on the brakes to help King across the finish line. That’s something I’ll let my son watch again and again if he gets the message that the last shall be first and it’s better to seek the lower seat. I don’t see any reason to watch UP again (3D or otherwise). Sorry folks!

  26. Chris Slaten

    Here is the blog of one of the Pixar production artist. It would probably interest anyone who enjoyed looking at the blogs from the artists at Portland studios.

    http://louromano.blogspot.com/2009/05/art-of-up_3697.html

    He just posted a full color script of the movie on his blog. Really cool, but only look at it if you have seen the movie, because it tells the whole story.
    A few of the plot points changed, but you can get an idea of what one of their near final drafts looked like.

    https://1.bp.blogspot.com/_GY-vHrWkMMg/Sh-fRt-JEjI/AAAAAAAAAuM/71xIv_hzsjA/s1600-h/67.jpg

    Also, here is a cool picture of one of the subplots that was dropped. Originally, Muntz wanted Kevin’s egg because it could reverse old age. I don’t think that it was a coincidence that Russel was shaped like an egg and all of Ellie’s photos were in circular and ovular frames.

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_GY-vHrWkMMg/Sh-iElYmYQI/AAAAAAAAAwM/FXFb-jxoywo/s1600-h/51.jpg

  27. Sarah Hogg

    I saw UP recently, and I loved it. From the pre-show “short” to the very end. It was richly complex and yet simple enough for very young children to grasp its plot and overtures. One simple aspect that I appreciated was that no one in this movie “had it made.” At the end of the movie, everyone had lost something, but the protagonists had gained something deep and life altering that could not have been obtained without sacrifice and disappointment. It was an excellent lesson that the death of a dream does not necessarily mean the death of all good things in one’s life.

    Spoiler alert!

    The biggest critique I had of the movie (and perhaps I am being picky) was that there was no mercy or redemption for the “bad guy.” They literally killed him! Even the bad dogs survive a major plunge over a cliff in the movie (when the footage pans out, you can see them swimming far below in a river). But the man in the movie who needed the lesson of letting go, of love and forgiveness, most is denied a chance when he is thrown over the side of the blimp! It could have been an easy thing for Pixar to show him gently floating down to the forest (he did have a grasp on a few balloons), but they didn’t. And then none of the other characters seemed to deal with the fact that someone had just been killed before their eyes! They go on to take his dogs and his balloon as their own. That was a bit shocking, and I think that would be hard to justify to a child (if they noticed it).

    Other than that, it was a beautiful movie and well worth seeing. I highly recommend viewing it in 3D!

  28. John Barber

    I finally saw UP this weekend, and it totally blew me away. What I mostly loved (beyond the things that everyone else has already mentioned) was the tiny details – a smudge of dirt on Russell’s hand, the tennis balls on Carl’s walker. Things like that, things that would have been overlooked in a lesser movie.

    The conversation between Carl and Russell where Russell is telling Carl about buying ice cream with his dad and sitting on the curb absolutely killed me – when he finishes with “I love that curb,” it is emotionally devastating.

    I loved this movie in a completely different way than WALL-E, which I also loved. Instead of leaving the theater with a sense of awe, I was left introspective, thinking about my marriage, and how I spend my time. I thought about the things that I’m carrying around that could end up like so many smashed dinosaur bones.

    That makes for a good movie.

  29. Barbara Reynolds

    Touching, beautiful score, all the things I’d never expect in a kid’s movie. But then it’s not strictly a kids’s movie. It is a triumph. I reveled in all of its sweet lessons and my 5 year old grandson was enchanted. I think the last time I cried in a Disney movie was Dumbo or Snow White. This proves you dont have to be vulgar, loud and offensive to entertain.

  30. Breann

    Have any of you watched the bonus feature, “The Many Endings of Muntz” on the Up DVD? Sarah Hogg, I think this will answer some of your questions about why Pixar chose the ending they did.

  31. Profile photo of Pete Peterson

    Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Breann, I bought the DVD a couple of weeks ago but didn’t buy the version with that feature. I’m dying to know what the other endings were, though. Can you tell us?

  32. Breann

    At first, they tried to find some way to redeem Muntz. Muntz would shout out to Carl, “You don’t know what it’s like to lose something!” and Carl would retort, “I lost everything! I lost my wife. That’s why I’m here.” But that always fizzled out as “Why are they sitting around talking?”

    They had to consider Muntz’s role in the film. His comeuppance had to be subservient to the protagonist’s story. Muntz was the inciting incident that got Carl and Ellie going, and Carl would have become Muntz had he been allowed to (had Russell not shown up). So if that part of Carl needs to die off, then Muntz as a reflection of that needs to die. That’s his job in the story.

    They considered an ending of perpetual wandering. Muntz chases Kevin into her labyrinth, realizes the Kevin he thought he was chasing is actually a balloon decoy, and is lost forever in the maze of the labyrinth. The problem was that this ending felt more like Muntz’s than Carl’s.

    That’s when they decided to combine the two and came up with the scene on the zeppelin. They boarded one ending where Muntz was caught in the balloon strings and floated upward, but that was indeterminate and left the audience to wonder if there might be a sequel. So in the end, they let Muntz plummet to his death. The moment Muntz died, Carl died. And in my favorite scene of the movie, Carl watches as the house floats into the distance.

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