Up – 2009
This movie shouldn’t have been nominated for Best Picture. To be honest, I have an issue with animated features being nominated for the top prize because the only acting in the movie are voices. By all means, recognize the films for their technical achievements, their scripts, maybe even their directors, but so many elements that go into a Best Picture nominee don’t apply, things like production design, costume design, and cinematography. There is even a category at the Academy Awards for Best Animated feature. Put it in there.
But aside from those things, the movie was your standard juvenile fantasy adventure. It was silly, ridiculous, and ninety percent of the film was obviously aimed at young children. So why was Up nominated for Best Picture? Well, it was for that other ten percent. Behind the flying house, the talking dogs, and the kooky birds, we have the story’s main protagonist, Carl Fredricksen, voiced by Ed Asner, a man who falls in love with a woman who is a kindred spirit.
We see them become friends as kids, fall in love as young adults, and finally marry. They live blissful lives of happiness until we learn that she is unable to have children, a fact which throws an ever-present pall of sadness over the couple. The two of them do their best to be happy, but eventually she falls ill and dies, leaving him alone and depressed. That little bit was almost enough to bring me to tears, I’ll admit. But after that, the little boy, Russel, showed up, voiced by Jordan Nagai. If this were a live action film, I would say that the cardinal rule of movie-making had been broken. Cute for the sake of cute is never cute. Never. But this is a glorified cartoon aimed at eight-year-olds. So now that we have a cute character that children could identify with, the film turned into a run-of-the-mill, kid’s movie.
The plot is simple. Carl once made a promise to his wife that they would go on an adventure to Paradise Falls in South America, just like their hero, Charles Munts, voiced by Christopher Plummer. He was a world famous explorer who had gone to Paradise Falls, trying to prove the existence of a mythical bird called a “snipe”. After his wife’s death, Carl lives a solitary life, trying to keep her memory alive. When he is finally forced to go into a retirement home, he escapes by attaching thousands of helium balloons to his house and flying away to South America.
However, Russell, a Wilderness Explorer, or Cub Scout, who had been trying to earn his final merit badge by helping an elderly person, is discovered on Carl’s porch in mid-flight. The grumpy old Carl lets Russel in the house and together, the two fly almost all the way to Paradise falls. The house sets down several miles from the actual waterfall, which is Carl’s goal. So in order to get the house to the desired location before the helium in the balloons gives out, Carl and Russell begin the grueling trek across the South American wilderness, dragging the barely floating house behind them.
Along the way, they meet Doug, voiced by Bob Peterson, a dog with a collar that allows him to speak, the flightless snipe bird, which Russel names Kevin, and Charles Muntz, now an old man, who is still hunting the elusive snipe. They also find Muntz’s comical army of talking dogs. There are exciting chases, daring rescues, and funny “SQUIRREL!!” Yes, there’s no denying that there were some funny jokes. But, I hold a Best Picture nominee to a higher standard. This is a kid’s movie that was intended to be silly, and it succeeded. But that little ten percent of depression threw a wrench into the works, lending the movie a distinctly adult subplot.
Now, I know the movie was pure fantasy, but I have to voice one thing that kept bugging me. If you establish a fantasy world, you have to abide by the rules you set down, no matter what they are. Helium balloons lifting a house into the air? OK. Never-mind that if their pull was strong enough to lift the entire house, they would have ripped off the fireplace grate they were tied to. Never-mind that there weren’t nearly enough strings tied to that grate to cover the sheer number of balloons holding the house up. For that matter, why wasn’t the house hanging at an angle if the top of the chimney wasn’t in the exact center of the house?
But no, my problem was this: the movie went out of its way to show Carl as a feeble old man. He used a mechanical chair to go up and down his stairs. He walked with a cane. But then, you can’t just turn around and show him performing Herculean feats of physical strength and agility like Indiana Jones. I get it. It is a fantasy for kids. But you need to follow your own rules. Unless the point was that he was never feeble or un-athletic in the first place. Maybe depression had caused Carl to accept his old age. Or maybe I’m just over-analyzing a children’s fantasy film. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good movie. But a nominee for Best Picture?