Sitting down and writing an article about how great Up was is a piece of cake. I could talk about the ingenious story, the character design, Giacchino’s music or the montage. This movie was so good that it got nominated for Best Picture, only the second animated movie to get the honor (after some movie called Beauty and the Beast). When your movie has a Wikipedia page exclusively dedicated to its nominations and awards, you’ve done something right. Anyway, singing praise to a movie I adore would be easy so I decided to challenge myself and try to find the flaws in Pixar’s Up. Wish me luck.
Let’s start with the easy option: The talking dogs. Yeah, a Best Picture nominee featured plenty of talking dogs. I’m not sure about this but I would bet that’s the only time that’s happened. So what’s my problem with the talking dogs, you ask? It’s simple. When you’re writing a movie, you have to set up its universe as soon as you can. After watching 5 minutes of Toy Story, you already know that the toys are alive when no one’s looking (just as in real life. I’m a believer). In Up, we only meet Dug once our characters are already in Paradise Falls, already in the second act of the movie. Generally, you want to set up things like this in your first act. But then again, maybe your first act was busy making every human being with working tear ducts bawl.
So it’s a bit problematic that after we’ve seen around 40 minutes of the movie, suddenly a talking dog shows up. But Dug is so great and he captures a dog’s personality so well that I’d be willing to forgive and forget all the talking-dog-that-wasn’t-set-up thing. Only that’s not the worst of it. Later, we see this dogs can cook and steer a giant zeppelin. I don’t know about you but my suspension of disbelief starts to crumble around that part. This is as if Buzz could suddenly actually fly after half of Toy Story. It’s just hard for the audience to learn new rules about the movie’s universe so late in the story.
And that’s not even the worst part. In the THIRD act of the movie, we learn the dogs can actually fly airplanes. That’s right, folks. Up is such a phenomenal movie, it got nominated for the biggest price of them all even though it featured talking dogs flying airplanes and shooting darts at kids. I would love to hear from you lovely readers and tell me if you too have issues with the growing fantasy elements the movie has and how they aren’t properly set up.
Now, this has to do with another issue I have with this movie. I feel Up is emotionally and thematically perfect. How many movies make you care SO MUCH about its characters in the first few minutes? How many movies can get you emotionally the way Up does in just 7 minutes? Heck, there are entire movie franchises with less character development than this movie has in its first eleven minutes. The Carl and Ellie relationship is so amazingly well set up it influences the rest of the story.
In fact, all of the character stuff is stupendous. The Carl/Russell dynamic is great and the perfect situation for Carl to start living life again. Kevin is one of my favorite Pixar characters. Dug is a perfect dog. All the characters are so great. And the emotional beats of the story, like Carl literally letting go of his baggage to embrace life again when he gets rid of his furniture to save Kevin, are perfect. Just perfect. But I personally feel the rest of the story, the plot of the movie, is not nearly as good as it should be. The whole deal with Muntz is a bit muddled for my taste.
I think Up is arguably Pixar’s strongest film from an emotional point of view, the other standout candidate being, of course, Toy Story 3. The themes about letting go of your past and living life at its fullest are very strong, just as in TS3, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. The characters are some of the best work Pixar has given us. But story-wise I feel Pete Docter could’ve done better. The character and emotional work is so strong, the movie can still be considered one of Pixar’s best. But I feel if these flaws had been addressed, if the story was a bit more logical and if some of its fantastical elements had been set up earlier, it would’ve been even better. Ultimately, Up is a movie that’s so powerful for your heart your confused brain doesn’t even care about its flaws.
What do you think?
**Editor’s Note: Yes, we understand Rasputin isn’t a Disney character . It’s a joke. Regular readers of Pablo’s articles realize that “Anastasia is a Disney movie” is a long-running joke he makes in every one of his articles.**
Pablo Ruiz is a Colombian filmmaker. Movies like Toy Story, The Lion King and Aladdin made him fall in love with the art form and now he hopes to dedicate his life to telling stories, hopefully for Pixar (if they go back to doing original films).
Some of his ambitions are making a movie as emotionally impacting as Toy Story 3, meeting JK Rowling, and petting a million dogs. Follow him on Twitter (@PabloRV7).