passerine: Picture of Sparrow from Dykes to Watch For (Default)
[personal profile] passerine


The GURPS rule books do a good job of explaining the concept of "Cinematic Reality", in which rightness always overrules mere correctness. The new Pixar movie, Up, is probably one of the clearest and best examples of what "cinematic reality" means and how to do it right. (This movie had better at least see a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, and I'd be very surprised to see a more deserving movie this year.)

Part of the reason that the "cinematic" reality works is because of the actual reality at the core of the story. If the movie started off with Carl the Grumpy Old Dude, it wouldn't have worked anywhere near as well. There'd be pretty golly-gee-whiz graphics, and a moderately amusing slapstick adventure story, but not much else.

Instead, there's a flashback to a (fictional) 1930s cinematic hero, a shy little boy who idolizes that hero, and a little chatterbox of a tomboy who does too and who wants someone else to play "adventure" with. And then, in pictures each worth many thousands of words, there are their lives, and we see the defining moments (the "miscarriage" portion of the montage is heartbreaking beyond all words), the day-to-day lives (tying on different ties over the years, and an adorable scene with Carl cleaning the inside of a window as Ellie cleans its outside), and the stuff in-between. I teared up every time their vacation jar was smashed because yes that is exactly what life is like, and having lived through those sorts of moments, they are a kick in the gut every damn time. And then the jar is full and he finally, finally gets to buy the damn tickets for that trip they've wanted to take all these decades - and her health fails them.

This movie doesn't end with happily-ever-after. It starts with it, and shows it, even through the not so happy times. And when Carl loses Ellie, it is a real loss. Enough of one that I found myself clinging to [personal profile] invisionary's hand, just imagining what it would be like 50something years later for one of us to find ourself in Carl's shoes.

After we come back to the present day and watch Carl go about his now-solitary life, one of the things we see is him brush his hand against the handprint Ellie made back when they put their mailbox up. So a little later, when someone damages the mailbox and Carl completely loses his temper and whacks the guy with his walker, it makes sense - this isn't some old geezer doing the "get off my lawn!" thing - the message here is really something closer to, "What the hell is wrong with you? Hands off my wife!"

It's about this time, too, that there is all sorts of non-helpful "help" going on. Russell, the neighbor kid, needs to earn an "Assisting the Elderly" badge so that he can become a Senior Wilderness Explorer and maybe have his father show up to the ceremony. Unfortunately, as I remember all too well from my Girl Scout badge-earning days, sometimes the badge requirements aren't the needed activities. "I could help you cross the street? I could help you cross...your yard? I could help you cross your PORCH?? Well, I HAVE to help you cross SOMETHING!" There's no more meaning to this than doing a single activity for the sake of saying you did it, and really, it's presented in a way that strips the recipient of the "assistance" of dignity and self-determination. And of course, once Carl's ordered to go to a retirement home (in the aftermath of hitting the mailbox-damager with the walker), we see that the "assisted living" staff members REALLY don't care about the people they are assisting - and in fact, barely seem to see them as human.

The posters, trailers, etc. show the balloons attached to the house, and one teaser does show the house lifting off. What you won't feel the impact of without seeing the movie is just how strong and powerful an act of defiance this really is. This is an "old man", a retired man, using the skills and tools of his career to make a glorious, unforgettable escape from people who think that he no longer has any skills of note, because he's just an "old man" and a senile menace to society at that!

From here, the movie unfolds in fairly expected ways, but rather than being irritating in its predictability, the rightness is reassuring and consistent, so that the focus can be on the way the story is told, on the beautiful visuals, on the lovely comic moments played purely for laughs, and on letting us be scared with the characters as they experience dangerous situations while at the same time knowing that they will get through OK because that's how the story has to be.

And there are some wonderful bits of silliness along the way, including the Best Talking Animals EVER. In fact, I think that's another bit of genius in this movie. The grumpy old man acts like a grumpy old man, the bouncy "helpful" annoying little boy acts like a little boy (and thank you Pixar for casting a little Asian-American kid to provide the voice of the little Asian-American kid!), and the talking animals STILL ACT LIKE ANIMALS rather than being mysteriously wiser and more capable than the humans. How cool is that?

On to a couple more general Pixar-related things:

Yes, I wish they would make a movie with a female character as truly the central character. (I'm eagerly awaiting The Bear and the Bow for precisely that reason!) However, the female characters they do have are generally very well-portrayed, with the disappointing exception of Colette in Ratatouille (she should have pepper-sprayed Linguini, damn it, not kissed him). Ellie and Kevin in Up are wonderful characters, not "token" at all, and their presence adds a lot to the movie.

The flip side of this is something that Pixar does do very well: create male characters in parental or quasi-parental roles who, while imperfect, are not continually having their perceived inadequacies as caregivers played for laughs. They are, at worst, no more wrong than any ordinary parents might be about what is best for their kids.

So yeah. I definitely recommend Up, though I'm not so sure I want to take Alex to see it on the big screen after all - too many scenes where she's likely to ask questions out loud!

Date: 2009-06-06 03:26 pm (UTC)
aquinasprime: (Alyssa Joy)
From: [personal profile] aquinasprime
Thanks for the review. Of course, you've now made me want to see it so badly that I wish we had the time to get a babysitter and go see it.

I guess I'll just have to buy it when it comes out on DVD.

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