Sunday October 11, 2009 in 2009 cinema | children

I admit to being a little cynical about modern films for children. This is possibly because I resent the recently introduced commandment “thou must take your kids to see anything with computer animated talking animals”. There now appears to be a further legislation stating that everyone must attend at least one screening of every new Pixar release. At least this was the outlook yesterday afternoon when we decided to see Up.

Thinking we could simply breeze into the feature of our choice at our local multiplex I was shocked to be informed by a smirking lad at the ticket booth that Up 3D was completely sold out. I was advised that we could either wait three hours (an eternity in kid time) for the next 3D showing or one hour for the next 2D version. I could see in the eyes of the smirking lad at the ticket booth that he saw 2D as seedy, scummy, not even worth bothering with. But we plumped for 2D, mainly because I’m becoming increasingly tired with the recent obsession with 3D films, especially those made by Disney/Pixar. I do not think that 3D makes a good movie, and in some cases – such as the excellent Coraline – 3D can actually spoil a film.

But the hour’s wait for Up 2D was unpleasant. Joining a line of people conveniently placed beside the pick and mix counter, being informed that we were in the wrong line but that it didn’t really matter, learning that our “VIP” tickets would get us into “the theater” first but only after forming an additional, but more select, queue. And so on. Why did I buy “VIP” seating? I don’t know. It appeared to only offer one comfort, which was in the leather backed chairs successfully muffling the heavy kicking from the brats sitting behind us.

still from UpNow I’ve got all of the extremely nasty preamble out of my system I can report that Up is a very enjoyable film. Perhaps it is because I could identify with the lead character, a grumpy, curmudgeonly 78 year old. Up is unusual in that it takes a old person as a lead, although Pixar cannot resist a cute kid and the obligatory talking animals. What makes it – and I’m sorry I cannot resist this – rise above the usual type of children’s film is both extraordinary attention to detail and emotional depth of the story. That Up is at times very moving is best proven early in the movie when the life of our elderly hero (Carl, voiced magnificently by Ed Asner) is told in a quick succession of silent scenes; his marriage to Ellie, hopes for a life of adventure slowly ebbing away as they grow old, Ellie’s death. It’s a quite beautiful moment in cinema.

Carl, who’s an ex balloon vendor, faces eviction from his lifelong home. Not a startlingly original premise for a film, but here the hero decides to escape the inevitable by floating his house away with the help of hundreds of helium balloons. He meets a stowaway called Russell (our cute kid) and together they head for South America. Here the film shifts from a visual treat of airborne scenes to the more mundane premise of another talking animal film when the two meet a speaking dog. However, Up manages to inject some originality into proceedings by making the talking dog and his canine associates rather wonderful creations (the difference is that they’re very funny and have fittingly animal characteristics – saying things like “a ball! Please throw the ball! I will run after it and bring it back!” in the eager to please way that dogs have).

The makers of Up have forced a simple plot to fit over the film’s finer subtleties, which could be seen as pressure to please the universal audience. It features a baddie (Christopher Plummer) with a longtime obsession to catch an emu like bird (who just happens to have befriended Carl and Russell). It’s to their credit that they manage to save the film from silliness. Plummer makes a fine villain and the resulting chase scenes are immense fun. Only once, where Carl’s house is hunted down by dog-piloted biplanes, did I bark gruffly that this was cynically inserted to benefit the 3D effects.

There are moments in Up that will go – I’m sorry about this – over the heads of the very young. I took it that the message of the film was how Carl believes his life to be wasted and that he’s missed adventure and excitement, only to realise that the most ordinary of lives is an adventure in itself. This is a concept a little too mature for the very young, at least the ones surrounding me yesterday. For this reason they will remember the funny dogs the most. Then this will fade and perhaps they’ll only recall the strange flying house. Quite often I judge the enduring appeal of a film by how long we discuss it on our 20 minute drive home. Although agreeing that Up was a sweet film, sad in places, with my ten year old and that the talking animals were far above average we soon lapsed into silence. I enjoyed Up a great deal but I suspect that it really isn’t a great movie; it’s an inoffensive, above average and well made film. In the crowded market of children’s entertainment that’s still something of an achievement.

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