This man is so sad, kids will love it.
As I openly stated in RSF's premier post, I've been bracing myself for "Up" to be an enormous disappointment. I predicted it would be a step backwards from the ground-breaking subject matter and storytelling of "Wall-E." The trailers for "Up" seemed to shout "Fat kid! Talking dog! Farting?" Put simply: it looked stupid.
I was terribly wrong. Somehow, Pixar managed to push the envelope even more. Yeah, making a cautionary tale about the environment in a post-apocalyptic world was cute and all, but how about a kid-friendly film about something real heavy, like death? Done. Done well.
Pixar's secret to success might lie in their refusal to ever dumb things down. They'll never insult the intelligence of their audience (aside from that slip-up known as "Cars," but we don't need to get into that.) They admit that children are indeed their main demographic; that's just what happens when you make cartoons. But that doesn't stop them from making films that all ages can enjoy.
Case in point: I went to see this film with a group of my "varying degrees of sardonic" dude friends. After the opening ten minutes, all of us had shed tears. Some of us more than others (I had to take off my 3D glasses to wipe my eyes,) but it still hit all of us. We were also at a matinee screening that was overflowing with children, so we got to see their response. Maybe there were a few perplexed tugs on parental sleeves (I heard one little girl inquisitively repeat the word "dead" a few times), but for the most part the kids got the picture, and went with it.
Coming to terms with the death of a loved one and confronting the many regrets that make up a lifetime aren't the most appealing plot points, but they provide a crucial weight to the madcap misadventures that make up the bulk of the film. Without that weight, I think I'd be less willing to accept the talking/flying dogs, or the quirky bird, or even the floating house. Somehow all these elements are able to co-exist, creating a film that's moving, entertaining, and pretty damn adorable. Yes, this is the most adorable film about death I've ever seen.
Once you've seen the film, be sure to read this enlightening interview with director Pete Docter over at the AVClub, and check out the incredible concept art by Lou Romano (some of which I stole to put in this post.)