Sunday, June 7, 2009

Up: Good

A Boston-area moviegoer headed for the Dedham Community Theatre this weekend had a choice of two movies that could not be more different: the execrable Angels and Demons, and the perfect Up. (The moviegoer would also be able to visit the fabulous Museum of Bad Art, located near the men’s room in the basement of the theater, but that is a story for another day.) It’s an odd pairing, but I assume the theater managers were planning to hedge good taste against bad.

Up and Angels and Demons have only one thing in common: they both feature, to varying degrees, a man borne aloft by an aerial device. But while the parachute from which the priest dangles in the Dan Brown movie is just one more agent of the destruction of goodness (cinematic and otherwise), the balloons that tug Mr. Fredricksen’s house off its foundation are agents, emblems, and reminders—all in one—of unbounded hope and loyalty. The rainbow colors of the balloons appear like visual grace notes in Pete Docter and Bob Peterson’s film—in a little girl’s rug, in the badges on a wilderness explorer’s sash, in the wooden bird that sits on Mr. Fredericksen’s mantle piece as a reminder of his life with his beloved Ellie, and in the plumage of a comically expressive exotic bird. It’s a bit of a cliché idea: the rainbow as a sign of goodness and innocence. But it works here—largely because Docter and Peterson bind their symbolism up neatly in a plot that keeps the viewer deeply engaged.

It bears repeating: Up is perfect. (Not everyone agrees with me. Click here.) And it is an unusual movie, as well. Suitable for older children (the PG-13 rating is well earned), it is at the same time a thoroughly grown-up film. Its concerns are the concerns of adults: the loneliness of advancing age, and the combined burden and release of memory. Wonderfully voiced by Ed Asner (loveable curmudgeon to a generation of television-watchers), Mr. Fredricksen illuminates for us the fine line between loyalty and stubbornness as he eventually realizes he must let go (quite literally) of the past. Up doesn’t repudiate the power of memory, but it leads us—laughing and crying—to see the beauty and the joy in forming new bonds and new dreams.

As for that laughing and crying. Plenty of movies generate either tears, or tears of laughter. Few—and in this reviewer’s experience, no others—can generate both. I suppose it helps to be a dog owner, and to understand how true it is when a dog—thanks to his master’s invention of a speaking collar—says something like: “I was hiding under your porch because I love you” (the last two words drawn out in utmost sincerity). But even a dog-avoider will laugh at the wonderful mix of pomposity and shame, goofiness and rote obedience that Up’s large pack of speaking dogs demonstrates.

And it’s not just the dogs that are funny in Up. There is that exotic bird, and the wilderness explorer voiced by Jordan Nagai, and perhaps most of all, the clever visual language of Pixar’s animators, who constantly delight and surprise us with the ingenuity of their images. (Poker-playing dogs find their movie home here in a brief flourish.)

The tears. They need no further explaining than a reminder of what the film is about: loneliness and loyalty. An old man desperate to fulfill his and his beloved’s lifelong dream. A little boy eager to Assist Someone, and to fill the hole in his sash full of badges. A bird determined to protect her babies. A dog eager to be loved. Have I said enough? When you go, bring tissues.


  1. Such a wonderful movie - good on all levels I agree. My favorite dog moments involved the mention (at any point) of a squirrel. The beauty of all of the relationships...can't even pick a favorite. All of this AND you were able to see Bad Art - you must have had one lovely afternoon :)

  2. The only bad art I have seen recently is the aforementioned Dan Brown movie. My screening of Up took place at a much more mundane multiplex. Still, Dedham Community Theater deserves a shout-out. Always a good place to go for good cinematic art, and fascinatingly bad paintings!