Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Up: A Ladybrain Review

Pixar's 10th feature film had big shoes to fill, released in the wake of films like WALL-E, The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.

But Pixar delivered another home run with their newest installment, Up, which tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, a widower who dreamed of exploring South America with his wife, Ellie. After her death, Carl becomes a loner curmudgeon who resents the rampant development of his community, earning the ire of greedy developers who want his property. When a scuffle with a construction worker turns accidentally violent, a judge orders Carl to relocate to a retirement home. Defying the order, retired balloon-seller Carl attaches thousands of helium balloons to his house and takes off, due south to fulfill his and Ellie's dream of living in Paradise Falls, South America.

But Carl's escape and repose is soon interrupted. Little did he know that overzealous Wilderness Explorer Russell was trapped on Carl's porch during takeoff--tethering the boy's fate to Carl's adventure. A series of fantastical, hilarious and heartwarming escapades through the beautiful landscape of South America's tepuis makes for a unique and amazing story of grief, redemption and talking dogs.

Pixar always walks the line so gracefully between a film that kids will enjoy and adults will appreciate. The humor and themes in Up are no exception. This ladybrain can't predict what kids will love about this film, but it's easy to see what adults like. It's funny. It's interesting. It's beautifully animated with eye-popping scenery. And it deals with and comments on important themes.

Agism plays a huge role in the plot, exposing the unfortunate reality that the elderly in America are often thrown aside to make progress and money-grubbing more convenient. The mutually enriching friendship that Carl and Russell develop is a great example of what young people and old people can give and show one another. For Carl, Russell is a friend who can share in adventures and show Carl that his life isn't over yet. For Russell, Carl is a father figure, a mentor and a companion for an awkward boy who shares the same appreciation for exploring.

And guess what? Russell is Asian, and this ladybrain could find no bizarre or offensive suggestions regarding his ethnicity. Well, that's refreshing.

Although Up fails the Bechdel test, there are a few feminist issues that Carl's wife Ellie introduces. She is a mouthy tomboy who endears herself to Carl through her kindness and sense of adventure. When they're older, she has a career as a zookeeper. When she and Carl discover they can't have kids, they're both sad, but they move on and have a very happy life together. For the few minutes that Ellie is onscreen, she makes a moving impression, and her presence is felt throughout the film in her influence on Carl, and his overwhelming grief at losing her.

Up is a lot of fun to watch, remember and quote. More than one talking dog quote has found its way in to this ladybrain's go-to icebreakers, along with "You can call me Nanerpuss, Nanerpuss!" or "And I want my scalps."

Feminist grade: C

It fails the Bechdel test but the character Ellie is a profound and positive influence throughout the film, even if it's mostly in spirit.

Moviegoer grade: A

One of this ladybrain's favorite films of the year, a total joy to watch.

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