You think I'm kidding?
Consider this. To fulfill a promise he made to his late wife, Carl Frederickson, the Spencer Tracyish old man who's the hero of Pixar's latest, flies his house to South America. The name of his precise destination, the place he and Ellie dreamed of visiting, the mysterious land where their childhood hero Charles Muntz disappeared on his last adventure?
The other day, a commenter on my post on the Toggle-Alex romance in Doonesbury called me "insufferable." Imagine how insufferable I could be if I followed this line of thought to any depth.
So I'll just follow it into the shallows.
A major influence on the makers of Up is George Lucas. There are quotes from and allusions and oblique references to Star Wars and Indiana Jones throughout. There are references to Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Terry and the Pirates and other movie serials and comic books that influenced Lucas, and to the pre-motion picture days writers who influenced the writers and producers of those works, Jules Verne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Conan Doyle. In fact, visually, Paradise Falls---
---is a direct quote from the silent movie adaptation of Conan Doyle's The Lost World:
Through Lucas all those old books, movies, and comic strips have entered the imaginations of two generations of young movie-goers who never saw or even heard of the originals.
It's been said that Lucas, with a little help from Steven Spielberg, brought the spirit of adventure back to movies.
The Spirit of Adventure is the name of Charles Muntz's airship and the ideal that Up celebrates.
Milton gets in there through the story of Anakin Skywalker---there's a swordfight in Up that conjures up images of the light saber duels between Luke and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Well, a sword and metal cane fight.---and Anakin's story---Vader's story---is a retelling of Lucifer's, the fall of the brightest and most beloved angel.
All the old stories inform each other, so I'm not insisting on a direct connection. But the story of how the best of us can undone and destroyed by our vanity is an old and important one. I think it's a story that has faded from Americans' collective memory, even though it ought to be one of our national myths, the cautionary tale we tell ourselves over and over again. Lucas brought it back, although it doesn't seem to have sunk in yet. But he's made it familiar enough that the makers of Up could gloss it without having to spend time developing it.
How a hero can turn into a villain and why this individual tragedy isn't necessarily the story's end, how it can even lead to a happy ending, is the theme of the Star Wars saga.
Through the fall of Anakin, through the failures of Obi-wan and Yoda, through the redemption of Han Solo, and the triumph of Luke, Lucas reminds us again and again that heroism isn't a quality belonging to an individual, it's an ideal that an individual attaches himself or herself to. The hero serves the ideal and when he loses track of that truth, when he mistakes himself for the cause, he is doomed.
Anakin is ruined by his vanity. Obi-wan and Yoda are blinded, weakened, even corrupted a bit, by their devotion to the Jedi Order and to a political system that they have mistaken for an ideal. Luke is saved, and saves others, through his selfless devotion to an ideal, which, by the way, is not the Force, but the goodness inherent in the individual heart.
Unless that's what the Force is.
Carl and Russell, the nerdy little Junior Wilderness Explorer who unwillingly comes along on the adventure but then joins in enthusiastically, are a very unlikely pair of heroes but they are heroes and recognizable as heroes despite their weaknesses and shortcomings, because of their devotion to the ideal the movie's villain was once devoted to but abandoned for the sake of vanity and ego.
The spirit of adventure.
A few quick thoughts in place of a review: Up rates pretty high on my personal Pixar meter. Fourth, I think. Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up. After that it's Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Wall-E, Finding Nemo, and Cars. Toy Story is in a class all by itself.
This is the second Pixar in a row in which the audience is treated to a long stretch that is essentially a silent movie. Actually, Wall-E was a silent movie. Its very little bit of dialogue was unnecessary and was practically just sound effects. In Up, almost all the important exposition and most of Carl's character are given to us without dialogue.
Of course, Pixar has been delivering silent movies regularly. All but one of the shorts that have played before the main features have been silent movies. The one that wasn't, Boundin, was the worst, the only complete failure.
Up feels a little underpopulated. There are only four developed characters, and one of them is only on screen for a few minutes. None of the dogs, not even Dug, has much of a personality. On the other hand, that one character who disappears from the movie less than a third of the way through is so vividly portrayed that we continue to see her and feel her presence throughout the whole rest of the movie. Ellie is Up's spirit of Adventure.
The 3D isn't necessary. After my first "Wow! That's so cool!" moment when the white letters of Walt Disney Presents appeared to float in the air of the theater halfway between my eyes and the screen, I forgot all about it.
I liked it that the 3D glasses are shaped like Carl's heavy-framed specs though.
Your turn: Rank the Pixars on your personal scale.