We all know Up is an amazing movie. And with the recent news that its director, Pete Docter, shared some details about his next movie, I thought it’d be fun to try and analyze why the 2009 critically acclaimed movie is so good. In the following article I’ll try to explain how a movie that has talking dogs that fly planes got nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Carl & Ellie’s love story
If I had to choose my Top 3 Pixar Moments, all of them would be scenes without dialogue. Pixar is at their strongest when they’re using visual storytelling. The first half hour of WALL-E is simply stunning. I recently watched it with a three-year-old and we were both mesmerized. To keep a kid so young entertained without dialogue, you need magic.
Another incredible moment is the Incinerator Scene in Toy Story 3. The toys are desperately looking for a way out. Jessie asks Buzz how they’ll get out. Now, think about Buzz. He NEVER surrenders, he always has the determination and courage to do what is necessary. But he just looks at Jessie and offers her his hand. And then we get the heart-breaking sequence with every one of the toys we have loved for so long holding hands, accepting their fate, deciding to die together as friends.
And then, the famous Up love montage. Pixar shows an entire love story in eleven minutes. You see Carl & Ellie. You get to know them. You start to care about them. You see their heartbreak at not being able to have children. You see them grow old together. And you see Carl being completely alone after a lifetime of love.
That montage is certainly one of the reasons this movie is so famous and well-remembered. It’s pure moviemaking magic.
Great movies are full of meaning. Whether you consciously notice this meaning consciously or not, the movie is better when it is there, motivating the characters and adding new levels to what you’re watching. For example, I remember Russell as a kid who is absolutely determined to accomplish his goal of getting that one badge he’s missing. But that’s only his material goal. What Russell actually wants is to get the badge so his dad goes to the ceremony. He’s a kid who wants to see his dad. He needs a father figure and his own dad has no time for him. And the badge will give him time with his dad, at least in his head.
Another fantastic moment full of meaning is when Russell flies off to rescue Kevin and leaves Carl behind. The two main characters just had a fight because Carl chose to save his house (which represents Ellie and the past he’s clinging on to) instead of saving Kevin. And when Carl sees Ellie wanted her to keep living and that their life together was an adventure, he literally gets rid of his emotional baggage by removing all the furniture from inside the house. He lets go of Ellie and the past at that moment and moves on to live in the present.
On top of everything else, such an original movie is so refreshing in this age of sequels and reboots we live on. We all love original stuff and Up definitely was original. We had never seen an animated movie about an old man who teams up with a small kid, a talking dog and a giant bird to carry his house across a Venezuelan jungle to make his dead wife happy. I mean, come on.
And those are some of the reasons I think Up is so amazing. Giacchino’s magical music, the beautiful animation and fun characters certainly help but that montage, the fact everything has a deeper meaning and the simple freshness of the whole thing are the main reasons this movie is considered one of Pixar’s very best movies. High praise indeed!