'UP' is a cinematic masterpiece that's more Spielbergian than Spielberg himself.
Chalk one more up on Pixar's massive-hit board. With a fearlessly unconventional concept, thoroughly fleshed-out characters, and a mesmerizingly beautiful visual style, 'UP' is an absolutely, unequivocally satisfying and delightful film.
And I do mean "film" not "cartoon", because for the past four or five years, Pixar's offerings have been better examples of the fine craft of cinema than 90% of today's Hollywood live-action flicks. 'Monsters Inc.' was a surprisingly poignant comedy, 'The Incredibles' was the best action movie I've seen in years, and 'Wall-E' was the finest master class in visual storytelling you can find this side of Chaplin or Eisenstein.
But 'UP' is a tour de force. It feels like a return to the heyday of the Spielbergian 80's (before the disappointing Spielbergian 2000s) -- the high-concept, well-paced, deeply affecting popcorn movie that makes you feel that the price of admission was money very well spent.
From the very beginning, with the opening scenes quickly telling us the story of Carl Fredricksen's life, the film immediately captures you with its irresistible charm and deftly-managed sentimentality. There are many moments of 'awww' in the film, but it never descends to cheesiness -- chiefly due to the fact that the characters feel well-thought-out, complex, and real. There's a sincerity to the emotions you see on screen that makes you believe and empathize with these people, digitally-rendered though they may be. (I have yet to hear a single woman talk about this movie without mentioning that they cried at the end of the prologue -- and I suspect the men are lying about not doing the same.)
The main plot of the film subsequently unfolds, starting with the now-famous sequence of Carl's house being lifted up and away by a massive cloud of colorful balloons. It's a scene that echoes the bounding exuberance of E.T.'s flying-across-the-moon shot; a scene that effortlessly lifts your spirit and makes you say, this is why I come to the movies!
As the story moves seamlessly from this fantastical opening and into the thick of its intricately-layered plot, you come to the realization that this film is, more than anything, about dreams -- how we find them, nurture them, share them with our loved ones, often abandon them in favor of 'practical' things, and then rediscover and pursue them all the more passionately when we finally come to our senses.
And this theme, as in any great movie, is presented in different ways, through the perspectives of each character in the film. There's the young Boy Scout, Russell, whose goal of completing his merit badge collection belies his true dream of having his real dad appear at his awarding ceremony. There's the adorable Dug the talking dog (you gotta watch the film to see how he does it), whose dream is simply to belong. And -- SPOLER ALERT! -- there's even the suave explorer Charles Muntz, whose single-minded pursuit of his foiled dreams have transformed him into a grotesque, amoral shell of his former dashing and high-minded self.
The story is tight and brilliantly executed, with Michael Giacchino's lavish orchestral score lending its sparkle and thunder to the film's rich emotional landscape. The visuals, needless to say, are meticulously crafted and absolutely gorgeous -- with exquisite touches like that of a child's drawing of a waterfall (representative of her dream) juxtaposed with the jaw-droppingly gorgeous scene of the real thing. And if you can, do shell out the extra hundred bucks or so to watch it in 3D -- if any film deserves the full stereoscopic treatment, it's this one.
'UP' takes you from the white picket fences of American suburbia to the wild depths of the South American jungle; sends you chasing after a rare kooky colorful bird, and fleeing from menacing attack dogs; makes you break out in convulsive laughter as easily as it brings you to tears; and ultimately, as befitting its title, sends you soaring up into the sky.
You can still catch 'UP' in 3D at the Greenbelt 3 Theater this week. Be sure that your ticket says "UP 3D". You can make reservations at SureSeats.com.