Thursday, June 4, 2009

Burning Retirement Plans

I have come to an important decision about how I will spend my retirement. When the time comes, the Abigail and I will retreat to a (non-burning) zeppelin with our pet talking dog. From there, we will travel the world having adventures with our grandchildren (or small mentees; I'm not picky).

That's right. I've seen Up. Becca, the Fiancigail, and myself went to see it last Saturday after Becca's birthday party.

I've come to expect a lot from Pixar, but they have not yet failed to exceed and impress. Up is probably the best so far (though I can't claim to have seen everything Pixar has put out; WALL-E, for example, remains a mystery to me) (I'm getting a little too fond if this parentheses-and-semicolon thing; perhaps I should stop).

In addition to painting a picture of my ideal retirement, Up was an example of almost everything right in a story. It had incredibly genuine characters, imperfect but ultimately loveable heroes and a despicable, but ultimately human villain. In terms of the storytelling craft, Up is visually gorgeous, with excellent dialogue and more than adequate pacing (more on that later).

Most importantly, Up is an example of why I write fantastic fiction. On one level, Up is the story of an old man who finds a new reason to live after the death of his wife. On another level, Up is the story of an old man who decides to fly his house (via helium-filled balloons) to South America so he can live in the place he and his deceased wife had always fantasized about settling. These stories are intertwined, so that Carl is literally carrying the memories he can't let go of on his back, and when he chooses between life and death at a crucial moment, it is to let those memories go crashing to the ground and fly away into a brighter future. Symbolism, drama, and a sword fight atop a zeppelin. Golden.

Other highligts of Up (in easy-to-read bullet form!) include:
  • Doug. On the one hand, he is a dog who can communicate like a human being, but on the other hand, he still a dog. He has dog concerns and dog reactions. He even tells dog jokes! Talking animals who aren't totally humanized are rare in fiction.
  • Another rare wonderment Up achieved with ease is compelling geriatric heroism (old guy sword fight for the win)! If you look at most fantastic fiction, you'd get the idea that heroism ends at 30. Not, so Carl proves, not so at all.
  • Russel: a child character who acts like an actual child, not a small, dumb adult. This alone is worth the price of admission.
  • Zeppelin!
Lest you think I was totally won over by a movie clearly written explicitly for me, Up did have one flaw. Or rather, a difficulty to overcome that it did, perhaps, somewhat inelegantly. On the one hand, Up needed to tell the story of Carl and Ellie quickly and efficiently, so that Carl is a comprehensibly grumpy old man, not just another unpleasant old fart. We need to understand what Carl is sad about, and we need to feel it down to the roots of our hearts. On the other hand, like any fantasy story, Up needs to establish its internal logic as soon as possible, so that we are not shaken out of our suspension of disbelief when something too unexpected happens. Up choose to emphasize the story of Carl and Ellie over establishing its rules, which meant that when houses uproot themselves and begin flying, dogs start talking, and the laws of physics and biology generally start inverting themselves, it's a little more jarring than it could be.

That minor issue aside - and in the final arithmetic, it truly is a minor flaw - Up is a brilliant movie, and I recommend it with my whole heart.

2 comments:

Scattercat said...

I interpreted Carl's escape as the moment when he became the Noble of Adventure. :-)

And the near-silent backstory sequence made both Angela and me cry for fifteen minutes, so don't even suggest it should be removed or I will flay you.

Mark said...

Re: Noble of Adventure

Yes, yes, yes!

Re: Flaying

Oh, no. I wouldn't dare suggest it should be removed. I think it was the most elegant way possible to deal with certain difficulties of the premise... it was just a solution that created a new and different (and certainly less serious) problem.