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Cannes 2009: "Up" (Doctor & Peterson)

Daniel Kasman

Pixar’s latest film Up (in 3-D!) is the animation studio’s simplest, truest, and strangest film yet.  For the sake of sentimental fancy, it jettisons depth for flashes of brightest melancholy, and a surfeit of what-if craziness about falling off the edge of the world out of sheer loneliness. Wall-E’s opening reel-of-silence is trumped by Peter Doctor (Monster’s Inc.) and Bob Peterson’s daring beginning, a montage of stark emotional simplicity that takes our lead character from boyhood all the way through the elderly mourning of his deceased wife.  From here, as with the last two Pixar films, Wall-E and Ratatouille, the movie increases in audacity in direct parallel to its whimsy.

Grasping for rats, robots, and the stubbornly old, Pixar is becoming more and more able to push the boundaries of both children’s and mainstream narrative cinema.  What we’re talking about here is a children’s film where its lead goes from the age of the target audience to an old shut-in before the story even begins, and, logically, the only place it can go next is up, as the man decides to honor the memory of his wife by flying off in his house (via an cheery fleet of balloons) into the wilderness.  Such a bold—and surreal—journey towards death in a summer children’s film?

Truth be told, with the addition of a simple-minded boy scout helping him drag his house through a desert in South America, both dodging and befriending packs of talking dogs, protecting a wild snipe, and fighting off an eldery wilderness warlord, one wonders if Pixar is remaking Monte Hellman’s The Shooting for the young and the old.  Up is certainly that abstract, if not more so; it sadly leaves behind the richness of character that Pixar is known for (barring a golden retriever that will probably be the truest, sweetest thing projected this year in Cannes) for a bold simplicity that allows half the film to take place suspended from the air.  As predicted with Ratatouille, Pixar has now reached the sublime state of an Old Studio, cranking out small films with none of the hype of blockbusters, and containing if not the personal feel of auteur films, then the roaring idiosyncrasy and heart of artistry.

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