Seriously, do I have to do this? Everyone has already gushed over this a thousand times. Can’t I just act like I was out of the country for the past week?

I better look over my 4 year/$35 million film writing contract to see if there’s some way out of this. Let me see, page 56: “as per your rider, your dressing room shall be adorned with chocolate chip pancakes cut into the shapes of letters spelling your name and displayed arching over the entryway…”; no, this isn’t it. …Page 57…ah okay, here it is in plain English (and a little bit of Spanish): “Tienes que review Pixar’s Up when it comes out.”

Wow. His English wasn’t very good but I knew the Appeal’s corporate attorney played hardball because I saw him playing in that park behind Tortas El Primo once. I didn’t think he’d be this much of a stickler though. I guess I have no choice.

Up, the new feature from Pixar that you should have heard about if you have a pulse or were ever a child, came out last weekend. I convinced the old lady in the handicapped seat at the AMC Van Ness that I had a bad back and she gave me her seat. Kind of her. I stretched my feet out and waited for the bitesize Butterfingers to melt together so I could eat the whole thing like a burger.

When I saw the preview for the new Eddie Murphy movie I tried to leave but after that many butterfingers the doors looked really far away. Thirty minutes of previews later the movie started and I fell into a light coma.

Like Wall-E, the beginning of Up is a reminder that Pixar knows more about film history than we do. They string together brisk and thoughtful tributes to late 40s postwar cinema and the silent film era before launching into a scrapbook character retrospective that packs a lifetime of heart and emotion into about 10 minutes. The main character of the movie is modeled after Spencer Tracy, but I think it’s Jimmy Stewart that would be most proud of this classic story within the story. And we’re off…

The grumpy Carl Fredericksen, voiced by Ed Asner, avoids an early retirement by taking a trip to South America in what we can apologetically call a “mobile home”. The flight of fancy turns into a full blown adventure that rivals Raiders of the Lost Ark. Almost everything about it is completely absurd: the creatures, the timeline, the physics, but the unabashed weirdness of the plot only serves to infuse more wonder into the very human story.

People talk about Ed Asner’s excellent voice acting, but I was more impressed by Jordan Nagai (at 9 years old!) playing the Russell character. There’s a mysterious subplot about Russell’s family and the absence of his father. The whole movie I kept thinking, “do the kids in the audience understand how intense this kid’s backstory is?” Then I thought, “At 9 years old, does Jordan Nagai understand how intense this kid’s backstory is?”

That’s the thing I love most about Pixar. They can string together all these narratives to different audiences. The Fenton’s Ice Cream and other geographical references create a little storyline for Bay Area people. The beginning tributes give film buffs a little documentary. Russell’s family history is a drama for parents. The Indiana Jones parts tell an action story to teenagers. Carl Fredericksen’s flying in the face of old age speaks to anyone who thinks their time has passed. To really do all of these effectively, it helps to have a mainstay, something that stays constant throughout. With all the Pixar movies, it’s the animation. The visuals, as good as ever but not anything markedly above Ratatouille or Wall-E, are still the backbone of Up. They keep Carl Frederickson trudging through the jungle and swinging through the sky and they keep all the little stories together.

At the end I quickly wiped the tears from my cheek. Walking out, I saw the nice lady who gave me her seat in the theater. I helped her to her car and gave her my extra pack of junior mints. No, please, I insist, I’m so sorry for taking your seat. Oh honey there was gum on that seat.

Damn you old lady!

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  • sfmike

    Nicely written review and I love the phrase “Pixar knows more about film history than we do,” and I agree with you about Jordan Nagai’s performance. I thought it interesting that our young hero was a fat kid, something I’ve never seen before.

  • Alex Barkett

    Yeah. Both the character. An overweight Asian kid and a senior citizen. Is no demographic beyond their means?