Welcome to another episode of Vern’s Soft Side. In this episode, Vern cries at a fuckin cartoon.
Okay, short version first: just go see the fuckin thing. This review is gonna have spoilers in the sense that I’m gonna talk it up, you’re gonna go in expecting this or that based on what I said, it’s gonna get to your analytical mind and might fuck everything up. So don’t read this. Also disregard what I said above about crying, I would never cry, come on man let’s be serious here.
UP is the latest Pixar and somehow tops everything they’ve done before. For all the mediocrity and horribleness going on in our world today, we are lucky to live in the golden age of Pixar. Who knows how long their streak could last, but watching their movies now feels like watching PINOCCHIO and BAMBI and all those coming from the same group of people in a row. It’s just incredible, nobody else can match what they’re doing.
There’s this cliche about movies like SHREK and all the different comedy cartoons that have come since Robin Williams did the Arsenio Hall impression in ALADDIN. They say those are good cartoons because they work on two levels: for the kids it’s a cartoon that moves around in front of them, for the adults there is sophisticated humor such as a reference to a TV show that you know about, and that’s why it’s funny, you have seen that show before or know people who have seen it and told you what it was one time.
Well, UP blows that shit out of the water by really truly hitting at what kids want and what adults want at the same time, and not by appealing to the lowest common denominator or the easiest jokes. No, this is a fantasy adventure comedy with some great action sequences, some colorful creatures, easily the most laughs of any Pixar movie and yet also it hits on profound emotional life issues much more effectively than most serious adult dramas and what not.
Also it’s Pixar’s version of GRAN TORINO: grouchy old man loses his wife, stubbornly stays in his old house in a rapidly changing neighborhood, reluctantly befriends young Asian neighbor, they help each other to learn life lessons. There is less shooting and racism, though, and more flying.
Hopefully you’ve already seen it so I’m not gonna give anything away, but holy shit, I was crying in the first ten minutes of this god damn movie. I was crying before it even truly got sad. In the dialogue-free montage through decades of Karl and Ellie’s life together you see so much happiness, so much struggle, so much dreaming and almost but not quite achieving. And more than almost any movie it seems to capture the feeling of a real loving relationship and because time is moving so fast it becomes sad because you know at this rate their life together is fleeting. It hits you because you’re sad for what happens to these fictional characters, but also because it makes you think about your own life and where you are on achieving your dreams or finding happiness, about whether you have enough time or if you fucked up and got too off course.
In this one sequence it tells you in images so much about the way people want to do things with their lives, but don’t always get to. About how important that dream is not only to the person but to the person who loves them. You see how Karl wants more than anything to see Ellie get what she wants. You see how they fall into a routine and time passes and they fear that maybe they haven’t really done what they wanted to with their time together, that they’ve wasted their lives and lost sight of what was once important to them, and maybe still should be, but they don’t really know.
It has so many deeply relatable things for adults that I end up with tears rolling down my cheek like I got pepper sprayed. I look to my left, the gal next to me is worse than me. To my right I hear somebody blowing snot. Then somewhere to the left. The kids are all laughing at the jokes and the adults are all crying. So fuck you SHREK and your “ha ha, the donkey said a line from the theme song from THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, they threw that one in for the adults.”
I mean this is the most emotional thing I have seen in a cartoon so far that does not involve the bombing of Hiroshima. If the first ten minutes of UP was Andrew “Dice” Clay it would say, “Jesse the Cowgirl montage in TOY STORY 2? I fucked it.”
It really does work on multiple levels at the same time. Like the early scenes where construction is going on around his house. In the story it’s an excuse for why he has to fly away with his house. But emotionally it’s about the feeling of getting older and the world changing around you and stubbornly wanting to stand your ground. Or toward the end when he dumps all the furniture and things out of his house. Story-wise of course he has to make the house lighter in order for it to fly. But an adult can’t help but also see that he’s casting off all the shit he’s accumulated over the years. Earlier all that stuff was important to him because it reminded him of his wife, but now he realizes it’s just stuff, it’s not the objects that are important but the actual experiences.
(dude, Fight Club.)
You know what? I bet this is the first time in cinematic history that a 3-D movie makes people cry. I mean there might’ve been some teary-eyed emotional moments in JAWS 3-D or COMIN’ AT YA, but not full on tears. This brings up alot of questions about the technology, is it a problem to have salty deposits on the lenses, does it break the illusion for somebody to have to take off the glasses to wipe away their eyes, etc.
(By the way, the 3-D looks great and brings you even more into the detailed Pixar world, but I don’t think it’s necessary. If you don’t have one of those theaters near you or don’t want to spend the extra couple bucks don’t worry about it, see the movie in regular-D.)
I said, and still believe, that WALL-E is a masterpiece. Its one flaw is that the first section is such a perfect, jawdropping and completely unique masterwork of filmatic imagery that the rest of the movie, by being merely superb, is kind of a letdown to some people. This one does not have that minor structural problem. It’s front-loaded with that emotion but it’s perfect because then you know why this matters. It makes a dude pulling a house across a cliff seem like the most important thing in the world, because we have watched his whole life before that and we know what it means to him. You laugh and have a fun time with his relationship with his young neighbor Russell (as well as a dog and a bird) and some crazy death defying shenanigans and what not, but it’s all anchored in this ritualistic quest to fulfill his wife’s dream for her posthumously. It’s about his relationship with his dead wife. I thought I was fine with that, I thought I was a man again, then that last image snuck up on me and got me crying like a bitch again. So perfect.
Pixar, I don’t know if you guys have seen TYSON or not. But maybe it’s time to hang it up. I don’t see how you can top this one. In conclusion, Pixar, did it ever occur to you that maybe some people want to retain their emotional fluids, and not have them just leak out in public? Thumbs down.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.