Sunday, October 25, 2009

[TIFF 2009 Review] Up

[Up is the Closing Film of the 22nd Tokyo International Film Festival, which runs from 17th to 26th Oct 2009. This review is pulled forward from the archive to coincide with the film’s screening at this year’s TIFF.]

This is a Private Flight!

Much has been said about the opening montage, and I fully agree that it's an extremely touching sequence in itself, bringing out and establishing the lonely character of Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner), a man living out his twilight years, finally deciding to take the plunge and fulfill a lifelong dream and a promise made. If the first few minutes doesn't make you cry, then you must have a heart of stone, or never loved before.

What transpires in the film is more or less captured in the trailers already, with Fredricksen lifting up his home with thousands of helium filled balloons, off for his adventure of a lifetime, only to find a stowaway, little wilderness explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) scared stiff on his front porch. While the boy offers to become Carl's sidekick for that final badge of honour to be promoted to senior explorer, little did he know that he too is up for a crazy adventure in South America, joined by a talking dog Dug (Bob Peterson) and an endangered bird, to Carl's dismay as they detract him from his mission.

While seemingly implausible in many ways (for instance having the flimsy contraption the size of a house with perishable balloons survive a mean thunderstorm), in order for the narrative and plot elements to work, you have to accept what's going on with a pinch of salt. Pixar has so far never disappointed me with its films, and Up continues the company's successful box office juggernaut by reminding everyone that it's all about the story first, the strong characters next, and animation just going about getting the job done.

It's a moving tale about loss and the prospect of letting go. Essentially it's a Carl Fredericksen story, where through the interaction with his new found friends, as opposed to fiends such as contractors and developers eyeing his property, discover new meaning to life, and a second chance for that sense of adventure that's been buried by life's unfortunate ups and downs. While a chapter has been closed in his earlier life of companionship, herein lies another opportunity to live out a new adventure, no point sitting around and mope in self pity. It's quite uplifting in that it's full of hope, yet dishes out enough nostalgic reminiscence that makes you all warm and fuzzy inside.

There were two moments that I particularly enjoyed, outside of the opening montage. The first was that parallel with The Fountain, where one is tasked to complete a beautiful experience by making new ones, on one hand never to forget, but on the other never to make a crutch of an excuse out of it, and to move on. The second was how life as depicted unfolds itself in phases, where the unexpected can crop up and derail even the best of intentions and plans. But so long as you have someone to share the spoils with, good and bad, then perhaps everything else is tolerable.

If there's a complaint about the quality of the 3D here, then I must say that amongst all the 3D live action and animated ones shown here to date, Up is unfortunately most disappointing of the lot because there wasn't much sequences that maxed out its 3-dimensional ability. You might just be better off with the 2D version, to save some cash for films that are truly designed to envelope your senses, rather than just to provide some depth of field.

Up is utterly moving, a romance story if you'd like in its inner core, filled with plenty of lovely moments that never lose you, and punctuated with adequate and well timed comedic. The short film that preceded Up, called Partly Cloudy, also served as a great appetizer to the feature, and reinforces the notion that a simple tale about a stork and a cloud that addresses the perennial children's question on where do babies come from, and without dialogue at that, can still move you if told in a way that's sincere and full of heart.

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