some thoughts on "Up"

One: I loved it. I laughed, I cried.

Two: Talking dogs who fly little fighter airplanes? There’s Dreamworks for that. This strikes me as the kind of thing that Pixar usually avoids: in Pixar’s worlds, animals (and toys) usually can talk to each other but not to human beings. Think about how Remy in Ratatouille chatters away to other rats but responds to Linguini with a rather full repertoire of Gallic gestures. By following this rule most of the time the filmmakers are able to get maximum effect from breaking it, e.g., when the toys in Toy Story scare the crap out of Sid by talking to him. I think the talking dogs in Up constitute one of the larger narrative missteps Pixar has made in a while.

Three: It’s been pointed out that by prefacing their movies with shorts Pixar recreates the old-timey experience of moviegoing: that’s added to here by beginning the film with a newsreel. (The news-and-interviews opening of The Incredibles comes close to achieving the same feel.)

Four: Pixar’s movies continue to evidence a great deal of reflection on the visual storytelling styles of silent film. The first half-hour of WALL•E will probably always be the definitive example of this, but the two most moving scenes of Up, by a long shot, are silent: a montage-like passage through the whole married life of a couple, from youth to old age, and then, near the end of the film, the husband paging through his wife’s scrapbook and discovering for the first time her deepest understanding of their life together. Both scenes are filmmaking at something close to its very best.

Five: I know this sounds like an incredibly English-professorish thing to say, but the plot of Up owes a great deal to Virgil’s Aeneid. Think about it for a minute: Aeneas is forced out of his home by hostile forces and in the process loses his beloved wife — yet that same wife encourages him to pursue a new life in another land. For much of the poem his old life in Troy is a burden to him: in a much-painted scene, Book II ends with him leaving Troy carrying his father on his back and leading his young son by the hand.

In Up, Carl Fredericksen loses his beloved wife and then is forced from their home — or rather, is forced from their property: he manages to take the home with him. Throughout his travels he treasures the mementoes of his life with Ellie, much as the wandering Aeneas carefully preserves the household gods of Troy. Then, in a distant land, Carl drags his balloon-lifted house by a garden hose that he has wrapped around his torso, while also leading a young boy who becomes like a son, or grandson, to him. Like Aeneas, he ultimately has to learn to make his past a source of inspiration for the future rather then a burden; and he gets encouragement to do this from his dead wife.

Unlike Aeneas, though, he gets to come back home, in a sense — a bit of the Odyssey grafted on, perhaps. There are only so many plots in the world, after all, and they get used and re-used in wonderfully various ways.