AT THE MOVIES | Pixar Floats Up, Up and Away

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Up is a wonderful film, with characters who are as believable as any characters can be who spend much of their time floating above the rain forests of Venezuela. They have tempers, problems and obsessions. They are cute and goofy, but they arent cute in the treacly way of little cartoon animals. Theyre cute in the human way of the animation master Hayao Miyazaki. Two of the three central characters are cranky old men, which is a wonder in this youth-obsessed era. Up doesnt think all heroes must be young or sweet, although the third important character is a nervy kid.

This is another masterwork from Pixar, which is leading the charge in modern animation. The movie was directed by Pete Docter, who also directed Monsters, Inc., wrote Toy Story, and was the co-writer and first director on WALL-E before leaving to devote full time to this project. So hes one of the leading artists of this renaissance of animation.

The movie is in 3-D in some theaters, about which I will say nothing except to advise you to save the extra money and see it in 2-D. One of the films qualities that is likely to be diminished by 3-D is its subtle and beautiful color palette. Up, like Finding Nemo, Toy Story, Shrek and The Lion King, uses colors in a way particularly suited to its content.

Up tells a story as tickling to the imagination as the magical animated films of my childhood, when I naively thought that because their colors were brighter, their character outlines more defined and their plots simpler, they were actually more realistic than regular films. It begins with a romance as sweet and lovely as any I can recall in feature animation.

Two children named Carl and Ellie meet and discover they share the same dream of someday being daring explorers. In newsreels, they see the exploits of a daring adventurer named Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who uses his gigantic airship to explore a lost world on a plateau in Venezuela and bring back the bones of fantastic creatures previously unknown to man. When his discoveries are accused of being faked, he flies off enraged to South America again, vowing to bring back living creatures to prove his claims.

Nothing is heard from him for years. Ellie and Carl (Edward Asner) grow up, have a courtship, marry, buy a ramshackle house and turn it into their dream home, are happy together and grow old. This process is silent except for music (Ellie doesnt even have a voice credit). Its shown by Docter in a lovely sequence, without dialogue, that deals with the life experience in a way that is almost never found in family animation. The lovebirds save their loose change in a gallon jug intended to finance their trip to the legendary Paradise Falls, but real life gets in the way: flat tires, home repairs, medical bills. Then they make a heartbreaking discovery. This interlude is poetic and touching.

The focus of the film is on Carls life after Ellie. He becomes a recluse, holds out against the world, keeps his home as a memorial, talks to the absent Ellie. One day he decides to pack up and fly away literally. Having worked all his life as a balloon man, he has the equipment on hand to suspend the house from countless helium-filled balloons and fulfill his dream of seeking Paradise Falls. What he wasnt counting on was an inadvertent stowaway Russell (Jordan Nagai), a dutiful Wilderness Explorer Scout, who looks Asian-American to me.

What they find at Paradise Falls and what happens there I will not say. But I will describe Charles Muntzs gigantic airship that is hovering there. Its a triumph of design and perhaps owes its inspiration, though not its appearance, to Miyazakis Castle in the Sky. The exterior is nothing special: a really big zeppelin. But the interior, now, is one of those movie spaces you have the feeling youll remember.

With vast inside spaces, the airship is outfitted like a great ocean liner from the golden age, with a stately dining room, long corridors, a display space rivaling the Natural History Museum, attics spacious enough to harbor fighter planes. Muntz, who must be a centenarian by now, is hale, hearty and mean, his solitary life shared only by robotic dogs.

The adventures on the jungle plateau are satisfying in a Mummy/Tomb Raider/Indiana Jones sort of way. But they arent the whole point of the film. This isnt a movie like Monsters vs. Aliens thats mostly just frenetic action. There are stakes here, and personalities involved, and two old men battling for meaning in their lives. And a kid who, for once, isnt smarter than all the adults.

Opening This Week
The Devils Tomb – (Rated: R) A team of mercenaries under the command of hard-charging war veteran Mack (Cuba Gooding Jr.), are contracted by a mysterious CIA operative named Elissa (Penelope Cruz) to rescue a scientist (Ron Perlman) working on an archeological discovery deep under the Middle Eastern desert.

Pressure Cooker – (Not rated) Pressure Cooker highlights two semesters in the culinary arts class of Wilma Stephenson, an irreverent high school teacher in Northeast Philadelphia whose no-holds-barred teaching style helps her students earn scholarships to college. She offers her students her version of the American Dream: You choose a realistic goal. You work hard. You work the system. You get out of Northeast Philly.

Up – (Rated: PG) From the Academy Award-nominated team of director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and co-director Bob Peterson comes Up, a comedic adventure taking off (and lifting spirits) in summer 2009. Carl Fredricksen spent his entire life dreaming of exploring the globe and experiencing life to its fullest. But at age 78, life seems to have passed him by, until a twist of fate (and a persistent 8-year old Junior Wilderness Explorer named Russell) gives him a new lease on life.
Drag Me to Hell – (Rated: PG-13) Drag Me to Hell tells the story of Christine Brown (Alison Lohman), an ambitious L.A. loan officer with a charming boyfriend, Professor Clay Dalton (Justin Long). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver) enters their livesand everything begins to unravel.

The Brothers Bloom – (Rated: PG-13) The Brothers Bloom are the best con men in the world, swindling millionaires with complex scenarios of lust and intrigue. Now theyve decided to take on one last job – showing a beautiful and eccentric heiress the time of her life with a romantic adventure that takes them around the world.

Pontypool – (Not rated) A radio DJ begins to receive reports of violence breaking out in his town where the English language has become infected with a virus. Based on the novel Pontypool Changes Everything.

Departures – (Rated: PG-13) Departures follows Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki), a devoted cellist in an orchestra that has just been dissolved and who is suddenly left without a job. Daigo decides to move back to his old hometown with his wife to look for work and start over. He answers a classified ad entitled Departures thinking it is an advertisement for a travel agency only to discover that the job is actually for a Nokanshi or encoffineer, a funeral professional who prepares deceased bodies for burial and entry into the next life.

What Goes Up – (Rated: R) What Goes Up (formerly titled Safety Glass) is a film about a morally challenged New York reporter, Campbell Babbitt (Steve Coogan), who learns life lessons from a group of dysfunctional students (Hilary Duff, Josh Peck, Olivia Thirlby) while covering the hometown hoopla surrounding the first teacher in space. Set in the 1980s, this is a poignant look at how heroes are made in a world devoid of heroes.

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