Up (2009)

As I mentioned in my entry Movies I Loved (and Hated) in 2009, I missed seeing the heralded animated feature Up in the cinema. Well, it finally floated to the top of my Netflix queue, so I cued it up. Here is my review…

Up, up, and away!

Up certainly is an uplifting animated film, but I have to confess that I think it’s overrated. Highly overrated, in fact. There is plenty to like about it: Mr. Fredricksen is a more complicated character than one usually sees in animated movies, and his personal history included more than a little melancholy.

The story sees 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen finally fulfill a lifelong dream to travel by air to South America (His reasons are succinctly explained, and sufficiently tear-jerking.) – by floating his entire house there using more than 20,000 helium balloons. Once up in the air, he realizes he has a reluctant stowaway in Russell, an 8-year-old budding Wilderness Explorer working on a merit badge for “helping the elderly.” Once in South America, Fredrickson and Russell get tangled up in strange events that include lost animals, talking dogs, skyships and a face from Fredrickson’s past.

I think the plot lets Up down. The story beats are telegraphed really far in advance (the moment Russell made the old man promise to protect another character I groaned, knowing that the film would come down to Fredricksen making an obvious choice). And why did Charles Muntz turn into such an evil being? It must have been hanging out with all those talking dogs for so long. However, even more annoying than Muntz was Russell. Honestly, the filmmakers should have tried to give this whiney character some redeeming qualities. Ed Asner is wonderfully gruff as Fredricksen, and Christopher Plummer‘s Muntz is suitable sinister. And though I am not a “dog person,” I did enjoy co-director Bob Peterson’s humorous line readings as Dug the dog.

Aside from the encounter with a thunderstorm, the journey to the southern hemisphere is remarkably uneventful and quick. (Try not to wonder how they navigated.) The adventure quotient is very low for a movie featuring a dirigible named “Spirit of Adventure.” In fact, that airship and the proliferation of helmets with goggles kept reminding me of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, a film I enjoyed much more. It’s never a good sign when I find my mind wandering to another movie and making (unflattering) comparisons. What’s more, while I did laugh at the “dogs playing poker” gag, Up is not a very funny movie. Now, I understand that humor is subjective, and Your Mileage May Vary, but for my (rental) money, Up let me down.

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