Before I get into anything about Pixar's "Up," there's great news out there today about Duncan Jones, a k a David Bowie's son and the man who directed the best slice of old-fashioned sci fi I've seen this year, "Moon."
For his next project, Jones will direct "Escape From The Deep," the story of a World War II U.S. navy submarine that sank after a torpedo malfunction, leaving the crew stranded on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Faced with drowning, nine men made it out alive after swimming the 180 feet to the surface without getting the bends.
I love submarine movies, so that all sounds great to me, but I'm still more than a little peeved that "Moon," featuring a top-notch performance by Sam Rockwell, never got any proper distribution in the U.S. - definitely catch it on DVD as soon as it hits there.
But, getting back to "Up," I should probably just keep this to myself, because for the most part I enjoyed Pixar's latest offering almost as much as everyone else in the world has seemed to. However, I didn't find it to be top-shelf Pixar, which for me includes "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles," "Wall-E" and "Toy Story."
So then, what kept me from loving "Up" unconditionally, which I certainly wanted to do going in? Well, from the outset it's a much more somber affair than I had been led to believe, but that certainly wasn't the problem. In fact, it turned what could have been the most mediocre of montages into perfectly concise storytelling as it opened by telling the life story of Carl Fredricksen (a seriously curmudgeonly Ed Asner) in heartbreaking fashion (and I'm not afraid to admit it was the first, but not the last, time that "Up" had this grownass man on the verge of bawling.)
And if I can skip ahead to the big action climax, it's a set piece that has Carl and young Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai, who gets the movie's best line with his enthusiastic "But it's a talking dog!") battling the movie's big bad in an aerial encounter that finally delivers on the full promise of 3-D. It had me holding my breath and experiencing a serious fear of heights, and I'd imagine the real peril it puts our heroes in might be a bit much for the kiddies, but it's also just tons of fun.
So then, where's the beef? Well, to paraphrase Russell in talking about the middle of "Up," "But it's a flying house!" Watching it take off is indeed as remarkable as I could have expected, so I was just amazed at how little time they spent in the air before reaching their South American destination. I mean (AND THIS IS A BIG SPOILER, SO READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT) really, having Russell almost instantly find it with his GPS device? Where's the adventure in that?
And once they're - sort of - tethered to the ground again, I was hoping for much more of a B-movie, Indy Jones sort of tale, but this part just never really got going, in large part because the big bad Charles Muntz, voiced by Christopher Plummer, was just one of the worst Pixar characters I've ever encountered. By having him stop well short of total madness, they also rob him of any real motivation and make this portion of the tale - in my opinion - just much less compelling.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on what is, after all, a kid's movie and a moving tale about one man reaching his life's aspirations. But this is Pixar, after all, and I've come to expect nothing short of perfection. And besides, like Carl Fredricksen, I guess I just like to complain, so please feel free to let me know all the ways I'm just off base on this one. Peace out.