Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

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Review by Patrick Hodges

Well, it had to happen.

After adding each of Pixar’s last four films to my personal Hall of Fame, they finally put out a movie that will not be added to my collection.

Now, before I go any further, let me assure you that this is NOT a negative review.  It may only seem like that, given that once one encounters near-perfection, not once, not twice, but FOUR times straight, anything less will seem like a letdown.  And Up is not a bad story, it’s actually quite good.  Very good, even.  It’s just not fantastic.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the main characters just didn’t measure up.  It’s tough for an elderly man and his rather rotund child sidekick to be as cool as a family of superheroes or a talking racecar, or as cute as a rat who wants to be a chef or a robot who falls in love.  For that’s what Up is basically about.

In the opening minutes, we meet the character of Carl Fredricksen, a bespectacled youth who wants to be an adventurer like his hero from the newsreels, Charles Muntz (even after said hero is discredited for producing the “fake” skeleton of a 12-foot-tall South American bird, and who vows to return one day with actual proof).  He meets a girl named Ellie, who has a similar thirst for adventure.  They marry, and though they are happy together, they never QUITE manage to have the explorer’s life they once craved. 

In the present, Ellie has just passed away and Carl (now in his 70’s and voiced by Edward Asner) is being forced to vacate his house and sent to a retirement home.  Unwilling, he affixes thousands of balloons to his house, and floats it away to find adventure.  Along for the ride is a precocious but unwelcome Wilderness Boy named Russell, who was on his porch during takeoff, seeking the last merit badge he needs (helping the elderly) to become a Senior Wilderness Adventurer… despite the fact that he’s never ACTUALLY been camping.

A freak storm blows them to Carl’s desired destination in South America, where he meets his childhood hero (Christopher Plummer) - who is STILL tracking the enormous bird in order to save his reputation – and who has been living only with a brood of tracking dogs, who are able to talk thanks to devices on their collars.  One of these dogs, a friendly (and simply adorable) outcast named Dug, is only too happy to help Carl and Russell.

I won’t spoil any more of the film, because you should see it for yourselves.  There are plenty of “awww” moments, and the story is uplifting enough (no pun intended).  My main gripe is that there are simply one too many coincidences and/or plot contrivances present to keep the story from bogging down.  (And I’m not talking about the notion that any number of balloons can lift a house… I can suspend disbelief for that.  There are plenty of others, however, which I won’t go into.)

All in all, it was enjoyable experience.  It just wasn’t, for me, at the same level of exhilaration that I have experienced with nearly all of Pixar’s most recent offerings.

4 / 5 stars
 
 
 

Review by Mark Lengieza

For years, Pixar Animation Studios has established themselves as the premier source of entertainment in the animation genre.  Rarely ever misfiring, the studio has been able to warm the hearts of fans through more than just silly sight gags and talking animals that don’t make any sense.  Now this is not to say that I have loved everything that they have ever done.  I thought the sequel to Toy Story was a big disappointment, Cars was very average and I was extremely let down by last year’s Wall-E (I know, I’m in the minority there).  However, they have wowed me with such great films as Toy Story, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc. and Ratatouille that seeing Up was an absolute must for me.

I am here to tell you that Up just might be the best film Pixar has ever released.  It was the best film I have seen this year, and it really isn’t even close.  I didn’t know what to expect from the story because the trailers really didn’t give much away.  What I got was a beautiful, emotionally gripping tale of two very different people finding their way together, both literally and figuratively.

There were several moments throughout the film that made your heart just sink.  This was countered with the moments that were so sweet they could melt the cruelest of hearts.  I completely lost it at the end of the film.  It is a great accomplishment when you forget that what you are watching is a cartoon, and these characters are just images on a screen.  I felt something so real for the characters of Russell and Carl Frederickson, in a way that only Pixar can pull off.

I did see the film in 3D, but I feel like it really wasn’t necessary.  The film would have been just as good in 2 dimensions.  There weren’t a ton of situations where the 3D was used as a gimmick, and with this film, it is clear why.  If you want to save the money and see it on a 2D screen, I would suggest doing it.  The film would be visually stunning either way.

Now, the film did have its flaws.  They came when it seemed to get away from the Pixar formula.  The film did have quite a few more sight gags and childish humor than we are used to from the studio.  Some of these worked and were quite funny, but others simply did not.  However, they did not let the film lose its sense of direction and quickly got back to the heart of what made this film great, the story and its central characters. 

This is the first film I have seen this year that I have wanted to go back to theater and watch again.  It will be a heavy contender for best film of the year (it will have some stiff competition from that robot movie you may have heard of) and it is my first 5-star review.  I urge you to go see this film.  Bring your kids, bring your significant other, bring your parents, but especially, bring a box of tissues because this one is going to grip your heart rather forcibly. 

Another masterpiece from the geniuses at Pixar, and a breath of fresh air for me after being let down by Wall-E, Up gets a much deserved 5 / 5 stars.
 
 
 

Review by Don Hill

Pixar's latest entrance into the category of "Our cartoons are Better than Your Art Film" is epic in every sense of the word.  The story seems so simple and universal and yet resonates with depth.  A lonely, grumpy widower named Carl decides to float his house away from civilization using helium balloons and go on the journey that he and his wife had planned for years.  The everyday problems of life never gave them the opportunity, the time, or money to fulfill this dream.  A young "wilderness explorer" stowaway named Russell joins him on his journey to South America and Paradise Falls.

To say that the animation was great is an understatment.  Pixar IS animation.  They have been leading the industry since Toy Story smashed on the scene on 1995.  I was never a huge fan of these animated movies.  I loved The Incredibles because it was about superheroes, I liked Ratatouille, I loved Wall-E and now with Up, I must admit that I am now a huge fan.  There was no downside at all to this film; no boring, overly-explained beginning, no dragging middle part, no anti-climatic ending.  This movie was incredible (heh) from start to finish.  The story, dialogue, and action was all simply perfect.  You laughed, you cried, and you journeyed along with these characters.  During the movie I felt completely immersed in the story and I was swept along with Carl and Russell.  The 3D environment certainly did not hurt this aspect of the film.
 
The voices were spot on.  Ed Asner gave Carl a depth that would not be possible for a lesser actor and Jordan Nagai, in his film debut (or at least his voice) was great.  I would not be surprised to see a long list of credits for this young man in his future.  Bob Peterson is a seeming wunderkind with a co-director, writer, and voice actor credit for the movie.  He is the Kevin Smith of the animation world.  LOL  If you did not laugh your butt off at Alpha's voice when he first appears, you don't know funny.  

This was my very first 3D movie (I know, I know) and I was astounded at how unbelievably cool it was to watch in 3D.  I flinched several times until I got used to seeing objects flying at my face.  That was part of the fun in seeing this movie.  The three-dimensional aspect really brings you into the story as it appears that you are literally in the scene.  Seeing normal 2D animation will seem so 1990s from now on.  (Just kidding, kind of.)

If you are a Pixar fan then you will not be disappointed in this movie.  If not, go see it anyway because not many "real" films can match the heart or depth of this story.  I cannot imagine watching this film repeatedly and not tearing up or laughing out loud at several points again and again.  Simply put, Pixar is making movies that are groundbreaking today and will be viewed decades from now for the story and that is really all you can ask of any studio, real or animated.  
 
5 / 5 stars

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