The elderly aren’t seen as important in our country. They’re respected in other parts of the world because they’re supposed to be wiser. They’ve seen more sights, heard more noises and have had more experiences. Due to this, they’re looked up to for advice, guidance and tips on life. Not in America. The elderly are seen as enfeebled, cumbersome, wastes of space we’d rather not have to deal with. We pay people to deal them for us. That’s why nursing homes exist. Abuse of the elderly is continually spoken about because they’re more fragile. We see them as senile beings (no disrespect to Al Davis’ clear case) and not dispensers of wisdom. As keen as we are to sweep them under the rug, it’s necessary to have a reminder that our elders “although slow and dangerous behind the wheel, can still serve a purpose,” to quote Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber. We get a huge reminder of that, courtesy of Pixar’s Up.
Carl Fredrickson borders on obtaining octogenarian status. He’s just lost his wife of many years (in a tear evoking sequence) and he has no children to burden. The only thing he still owns is the home he and his wife moved into after tying the knot. Now, the neighborhood surrounding him his been uprooted by construction. His is the last house on the block and he faces continual torment from the construction company to sell his house only so they can mow it down. He tells them they can have it…when he’s dead, and although he lives a simple life of dressing up in his Sunday best only to move out onto the porch and stew, he shows no signs of slowing down.
One day, Russell, a junior Wilderness Explorer (think: Boy Scouts), knocks on Carl’s door and reading directly from his manual, offers to assist Carl across the street, lawn and porch. Carl turns him down all three times. Russell needs only one more badge, the “assisting the elderly” badge, to become a senior Wilderness Explorer. Carl decides to send Russell away in a way he thinks he’s helping. Carl tells Russell that a bird called a “snipe” always invades his property and asks Russell to hunt down the bird and return it once the bird is found. That ought to get rid of him for a while.
While Russell is out doing his darnedest to assist Carl’s need, a construction vehicle parks in front of Carl’s home. The driver is unable to corral the massive machine and he runs over the mailbox Carl and his recently deceased wife, Ellie, had painted long ago. Carl is heartbroken by the misdeed and when the driver tries to pry it from Carl’s hand to fix it, Carl bops him on the head with his tennis ball-footed walker. Carl is taken to court and forced into moving to a retirement home. When he’s to be picked up the next day, he instead launches a force of balloons out his chimney, lifting his entire home into the air where the destination is a childhood fantasy Ellie was never able to see happen – at the top of Paradise Falls in South America. Russell has stowed away on the property and Carl is forced to ask for help in a way that would make Ellie proud and lead Russell to earning that “assisting the elderly” badge.
I was instantly reminded of my favorite film from last year, Gran Torino, during the first ten minutes of Up. The former film also contains an elderly male protagonist, Walt, recently widowed. Unlike Carl, he has children, but they and their children are so far removed physically and value-wise they might as well not exist. Whereas Carl’s home is literally the last on the block, Walt’s is the last from the neighborhood he moved into as to his dissatisfaction it’s been overtaken by Hmong immigrants. Lastly, there is the common element of the younger male available to help. Walt had Thao, who was shamed into helping, but would soon develop a father-son relationship. Carl has the eager Russell at his disposal. Where the similar set-ups differentiate, could be the very difference between animation and live-action. Clint Eastwood keeps Gran Torino firmly grounded in reality, whereas Pixar using the medium of computer animation is able to take things in a fantastical direction with a balloon-floating house. The two films employ a similar set-up yet take different approaches, but still end up making a similar point.
Up is Pixar’s first foray into the newest old fad in filmmaking: 3-D. I went against Roger Ebert’s advice to save money and see the film in 2-D, as I feel the need to experience the film the way it was intended to be seen. Perhaps that makes me a tool to Hollywood’s marketing plans for 3-D and if that’s the case, so be it. Director Pete Docter stated there wouldn’t be any visual tricks created solely to exploit the additional dimension, unlike DreamWorks’ Monsters vs. Aliens. Like everything Pixar, story comes first. The 3-D effect didn’t truly add a lot to the film, except during the aerial scenes. The spatial difference between an object and long-range blue sky depicts a wondrous sight and you can’t help but thing maybe this was the perfect opportunity for the animation titan to debut a 3-D effect.
Up is almost certainly Pixar’s saddest film to-date. Finding Nemo had the death of Nemo’s mother at the beginning, but there are at least three tear-inducing moments following Carl and Russell. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s as much humor as expected to offset it. Dug, the dog who speaks English through the use of a manufactured collar is certainly a brilliant creation and Carl and Russell’s relationship grows exactly as hoped, but you never feel the stakes are all too high, as well as they may have been set-up and crafted.
When you expect perfection, you’re bound for disappointment. Unfortunately, Pixar has set the bar so high for themselves, it’s difficult to continue to achieve that level of success. I’m being overly hard on the film, to be sure. It’s a very good movie that I think could have used a bit more refinement to make it perfect. Up teaches a lesson all viewers should learn. Although bones deteriorate and hunches develop, the childlike sense of adventure and wonderment is never lost, no matter how old you get. As we all age, perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to run into someone who genuinely wants to help.