30 May 2009

Echo: The Times on Up

Manohla Dargis of the NY Times, I've just read, echoes my sentiments (unbeknownst to her, I'm sure) about Up and about Pixar and has in doing so reminded me of a few things that I wanted to say in my original review but forgetfully omitted.


First, I wanted to say how disappointing it was to me that a significant number of the plot-points in Up were clearly taken from the plots of other films - plots of which, it seemed to me, Pixar was shadily hoping its audience wouldn't be cognizant: plots of such well-known films as The Wizard of Oz (1939), as exemplified in Up by Russell's flying on the leaf-blower, by the castellar chase by the minion-guards, and of course by the lone house caught in the storm; Howl's Moving Castle (2004), as exemplified by the aged anti-hero, fighting on a long journey to recover his youthful spirit; and La Maison en Petits Cubes (2008; which I did mention in the previous review), as exemplified by the whole wordless initial sequence. As there is no way that the filmmakers of Up could have been ignorant of these films, these kinds of uncredited, inexplicit, yet unambiguous "borrowings" are a little too on-the-crafty-side for me and, as such, for their unoriginal, borderline-plagiaristic inclusions, force me to reconsider my respect for the innovation and integrity that supposedly define the studio.

Second, I wanted to make a point of mentioning the extremely odd choice that it was to let the ultimate demise of Charles Muntz go by without even a moment's regret, remorse, or mourning on the part of Carl Frederickson. Indeed, Muntz was the (rather makeshift) antagonist and Frederickson, the rather misanthropic protagonist; but, if the audience were truly to be made to believe that Frederickson had been successfully appealed to by the emotions of his experience, appealed to be right open to the plights of others (e. g., Kevin), however unlikely to him they may be; then why why why would Mr. Frederickson not even flinch at his effective murder of Muntz, another human being, who furthermore was his childhood hero??? I mean, what?! I was astounded. The film was effectively saying that people, whatever the may have once meant to us, because they have motivations opposite to our own, deserve whatever punishment, however fatal, circumstance may happen to wreak upon them. That such a grave and malignant pronouncement can live and find voice within a Disney-Pixar film is not only outrageous but also thoroughly incoherent in the context of their canon, in which virtue always must rule the day. (Note that, as such, this feat and fall is not that of any traditional villain, any trace of whose virtue is categorically and imperatively erased, lest there be the need to remorse his or her demise afterwards; for, after all, it would hardly be considered heroic to annihilate a character with even the slightest shred of humane decency. That fact is why, of course, the demise of all other villains in the canon, from the Wicked Queen to Jafar and beyond, has not been problematic. Muntz' demise, however, is problematic, precisely because he does retain the "human touch," a quality most notably given to him early on in the film as his being an honorable man of science, admirable and admired by the most innocent youth of the world, out only to defy the sullying of his reputation, and noble to a T. Though he may become angry when provoked, it is never made unambiguously clear later on, as it would have needed to be, that his years out in the wilderness or his separation from the eyes of the media have stripped him of whatever humanity he may have once at least appeared to have; still initially hospitable to his guests [if a bit dazed by his extreme isolation], still beaming with the genuine ambition for learning and science, and - most importantly - still kindly to animals, unless otherwise provoked, Muntz' character is a bit suspect of holding on to that problematizing goodness and so completely breaks what otherwise should have been a routine triumph for the protagonists. Whether or not this complication of character arose out of the [misguided] desire to flesh out the archetypes of the action/adventure and animated canons, beyond their traditional 2-D walls, the fact remains that so complicating him cracked with the fundament of the play. Tsk tsk, writers.)

Third, I came close to saying so in my piece, but Manohla did the justice of making explicit this accurate critique:
Though the initial images of flight are wonderfully rendered — the house shudders and creaks and splinters and groans as it’s ripped from its foundation by the balloons — the movie remains bound by convention, despite even its modest 3-D depth. This has become the Pixar way. Passages of glorious imagination are invariably matched by stock characters and banal story choices, as each new movie becomes another manifestation of the movie-industry divide between art and the bottom line.

In “Up” that divide is evident between the early scenes, which tell Carl’s story with extraordinary tenderness and brilliant narrative economy, and the later scenes of him as a geriatric action hero. The movie opens with the young Carl enthusing over black-and-white newsreel images of his hero, a world-famous aviator and explorer, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). Shortly thereafter, Carl meets Ellie, a plucky, would-be adventurer who, a few edits later, becomes his beloved wife, an adult relationship that the director Pete Docter brilliantly compresses into some four wordless minutes during which the couple dream together, face crushing disappointment and grow happily old side by side. Like the opener of “Wall-E” and the critic’s Proustian reminiscence of childhood in “Ratatouille,” this is filmmaking at its purest.
[...]
In time Carl and Russell, an irritant whose Botero proportions recall those of the human dirigibles in “Wall-E,” float to South America where they, the house and the movie come down to earth. Though Mr. Docter’s visual imagination shows no signs of strain here — the image of Carl stubbornly pulling his house, now tethered to his torso, could have come out of the illustrated Freud — the story grows progressively more formulaic. And cuter. (Dargis, 2009)
If you can, I urge you to keep reading Manohla's review, for a more complete analysis of the ways in which the above is true for Up and its creators - including yet another example of how they "borrowed" from filmic history. All I have left to add here is that the reason why I didn't touch the 3-D aspect of the film, as you may have expected I would, was that I found nothing worth saying about it: It was technically well rendered and, since it was practically globally used, there was no room for making a critical distinction regarding its potentially intentional artistic usage (i. e., in contrast with traditional 2-D imagery); it was, in short, unextraordinary and in its form the norm. That's all. Good watching!

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