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Summertime Rolls: Up

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One of the trailers that aired before Up was for the third Ice Age movie, in 3D.  Lots of pratfalls, zany situations (that squirrel that keeps looking for the nut now gets a girlfriend), and poop jokes. That said, I laughed at the trailer, all the while knowing I most likely won’t see it.  My friend Craig is a big fan of Ice Age #1, so I saw that one on his recommendation.  Didn’t see #2, even though my other friend Doug says it is that rare sequel that tops the original.

I like animated movies, but don’t really feel the need to see too many of them. Didn’t see either of the Madagascar movies, nor did I see any of the Shreks after the first one.  I hadn’t seen Kung Fu Panda until it hit HBO, and I thought it was great when I did.  It’s just that most of these movies exist (at least for me) in the moment I am watching them, and disintegrate from my brain instantly after. They have the staying power of, say, a John Grisham book or the new Terminator movie.

But Pixar is different- so different that I don’t think it is fair to show trailers for non-Pixar animation before them. Because frankly, there is no comparison.  Pixar movies stick with you because their makers aim for something more than John Leguizamo’s sloth milking what he thought was a female water buffalo (not that I didn’t think that joke was funny; I did laugh. But maybe I was thinking of a similar joke in Kingpin).

But that doesn’t compare to those opening 45 minutes of last year’s WALL-E, or the beauty of the jellyfish scene in Finding Nemo, or Woody considering the meaning of a toy’s life in Toy Story 2, or… I could go on for every single one of the ten Pixar movies so far. And that includes Up.

Up is great from door to door, but the opening ten minutes or so are more than that.  Those opening scenes, the ones that track the main character’s (Carl Frederickson) relationship with the love of his life from childhood to her death, capture truths about marriage and love that will definitely go over the heads of the little kids that are supposedly the target audience of animated movies. 

That it is done in ten minutes and without dialogue is impressive; that it make you invest yourself so deeply in these characters from the get-go is essential.  Because if you didn’t know what Carl had, and what he subsequently lost, his whole journey wouldn’t mean quite so much.  Up opens with tears, and “settles” into an adventure about getting out of a rut and rediscovering life.

Sounds ponderous, but it has so many little moments that were perfect.  I loved that it addressed the pain of the fat kid climbing the rope in gym class.  I loved it when Carl unconsciously adopts the Buddhist philosophy that to gain lift-off, you must lose all your material possessions. And I love all the echoes this movie has to James and the Giant Peach, one of my favorite books as a youngster. Like that book, Up isn’t afraid to be a bit scary, to deal with real-life stakes, and to put little kids in danger. 

Because there was some crying from the little kids in the theater, and I know it wasn’t because they were empathizing with Carl’s loneliness. The main bad guy has some dogs which he has trained to be fairly vicious. There is something terrifying about a snarling Rottweiler, and when it is exaggerated through animation, I could see it being a pee-in-your-pants moment for a little kid. 

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But nothing should stop you, no matter what your age, from seeing Up.  It’s the movie to beat this summer.

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