We have come to expect a lot from Pixar movies. Rightfully so. Take a look at the 9 films the little-studio-that-could has produced in its short existence:
a bug’s life
Toy Story 2
That’s quite a list. With the exception of Cars, I consider every one of those an exceptional film, with three (Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. and WALL-E) bonafide masterpieces. That is quite a success rate. And Pixar’s most recent film, last year’s WALL-E, proved the limitless magic that cinema can offer, raising the high bar even higher for the studio that had already existed in its own elite realm, so much so that all you had to do was say “it’s a Pixar movie” and you would buy a ticket, without knowing anything else about it (at least I would) and their box office numbers prove it. I don’t think there is a single director or star who is that much of a sure thing.
So it was with great anticipation and expectation that I booked my ticket for Pixar’s latest feature film, Up, on opening weekend (on a Saturday matinee, no less, putting me in the full line of fire of this film’s target audience), and I skipped to the theatre, heady with delight awaiting yet another exhilerating Pixar experience.
You know what they say about high expectations.
In the time since I’ve seen it, and, in fact, since the first moment that I realized that Up was not going to be the monumental time in the theatre I was hoping for and, in fact, was just going to be an average film, I had to keep reminding myself to STOP comparing it to other Pixar films. I thought that maybe I would find more ways to enjoy it if I just sat back and appreciated it for what it was, for the unique, sweet and special touches that made it its own, that made it stand apart. Maybe WALL-E was just too fresh in my mind. Maybe Monsters, Inc is too close to my heart. Maybe Ratatouille was just too sophisticated, maybe Incredibles was just too clever, maybe Finding Nemo was just too smart…but wait. Each and every one of those films were able to stand on their own. Each and every one of those films were able to find new ground to break, new things to say and new ways to say them. Each of the previous Pixar films took us to a different world that we’d never seen before, no two the same (not counting the Toy Story sequel) and give us characters with dimension and personality and heart. But, most of all, they each told a story that was beyond a children’s movie and never insulted the intelligence of their audience, no matter the age, combining theme with plot, giving us exactly what we wanted in the end but never being transparent along the way. They were, each one, finely tuned and original, full of character, heart and soul. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it….Up just can’t compare.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t moments in Up that are wonderful. It is, still, a Pixar movie. The opening twenty minutes or so are truly heartwarming and heartbreaking and if it doesn’t get a little misty where you are, then you should really check your pulse. We are introduced to the main characters and the main plot and story is set up, but, more than that, we are given a reason to root for this adventure our character is about to embark upon, which is essential in a movie like this. The audience must be on board if the stakes are high or you might as well give up. So we are right there, in the movie’s back pocket and everything is going great, until it all goes sour once the real “adventure” starts. After a really great start, it’s as if the screenwriter runs out of ideas and is forced to vamp for the rest of the movie, because this great “adventure” feels more like a romp through Central Park that ends up taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r. And the bad guys? I NEVER thought I’d roll my eyes during a Pixar movie but that’s just what I did as soon as I laid eyes on the villainous creatures. OK, so Pixar is owned by Disney, so they can flat-out steal from them now?
Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe I do hold Pixar films to a higher standard, but Up just took way too many shortcuts. Yes, it does have a wonderful theme, but unfortunately, that theme gets lost in among the recycled villains, boring adventure, and transparent storyline. I know, I know….everyone wants to root for this film and it seems to be uplifting and it’s what we need right now, but I’m telling you….it may have a ton of heart, but it just has no soul.