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Chief among Up’s strengths is its whimsical premise-a house carried into the sky by innumerable colourful, helium-filled balloons. The image of balloons emerging from under an unfurling tarp is awe-inspiring and beautifully-rendered, as is much of the movie.
Up is also undeniably a character piece. There is so much depth in the relationship between Carl and Ellie, even though it is told in 15 minutes and, for the most part, without dialogue. This whirlwind journey through the travails and simple joys of the 70 years they spend together is the film’s strongest portion.
A masterful balance has also been found in the characterization of almost everyone in the film, and the voice-acting is exceptional all-around.
The movie seems to hit all the right notes in combining plenty of delightful humour, moments of sadness, visual spectacle, an adventurous spirit and genuine peril-those heights are frighteningly realistic, especially in 3D, and there is plenty of dangling thousands of feet up in the air.
However, Up is not perfect, and despite its many positive points, is not Pixar’s best effort in my opinion. The first half of the film is noticeably better than the second; for all it’s worth the primary colours of the rainforest and fairly exciting chase sequences cannot outshine the heartfelt love story between Carl and Ellie.
Up is also admittedly far-fetched, and while every effort is made to ground the story, it just seems to float up and up and up. At times the whimsical premise works against it, and portions of the film are a little too fantastical to be readily relatable to the audience. While the story is inventive, it is not as visionary or well-told as, say, Ratatouille or Finding Nemo. Even in terms of visual spectacle, Up doesn’t pack as much punch as Pixar’s action-packed superhero satire The Incredibles or WALL-E. The latter also has a slightly more endearing main character to carry the film.
All that said however, Up supercedes many mediocre animated films that cram too many pixels and not enough story into their 80-90 minutes. One can always expect more from Pixar, and despite its shortcomings, Up rises satisfyingly far above average.
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Being both an adventure person and a characters person, I really enjoyed the whole film, even the second half. It's definitely a film that's in more than one genre, which always brings up the question of how good a job one can do multi-genre, and if one genre suffers as a result of another being there.
You're right about the characters feeling less grounded in reality as the story gets increasingly adventurous. It's like the movie is shifting away from character and towards story. But I don't really mind it though. I loved the movie all throughout. I guess it's a matter of taste, but I was able to consistently enjoy this part drama, part comedy, part adventure, part character-driven film.
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