Tuesday, June 2, 2009
The Imagery of Up
Once again, Disney/Pixar’s new film, Up, combines humor, poignancy, adventure, brilliant artwork, and important themes.
In one scene, Carl Fredricksen ( voice by Ed Asner), accompanied by the intrepid but innocent Wilderness Explorer, Russell ( voice by Jordan Nagai), drift into a very frightening lightning storm, and as the house is rocked by the tempest, Carl runs around trying to save his possessions from being smashed – his old furniture and knick-knacks that remind him of his marriage to his soul-mate, Ellie. The scene is masterfully painted, as every scene is in this new computer-animated feature. Most importantly, the scene points out that Carl needs to let go of the past or he will miss the wonder of the days he has left in the present. As in the image above, his old ways are constantly threatened.
The theme of letting go of the past develops toward its climax when Carl throws out all his possessions in order to lighten the load so that he can fly to the rescue of a boy named Russell, a rare giant bird, and Dug, a faithful dog, equipped with a collar that allows him to articulate exactly the kinds of things you would expect from a dog, so that he can deliver them from the clutches of the maniacal explorer Charles Muntz.
But the film's major strength is its imagery. In the same way the 2008 hit, WALL-E, uses pictures to establish the world and character of WALL-E, Up starts with a nearly dialogue-free episode in which little Carl, an adventurous boy brought up on the travel documentaries of explorer Charles Muntz (voice by Christopher Plummer), meets Ellie, an energetic little tomboy who also has a passion for adventure. Then, without dialogue, a montage takes us through Carl and Ellie’s relationship: they grow up, they get married, they dream of going on an adventure to South America, their dreams are thwarted by the realities of life, and Ellie’s health declines. Suddenly we come to abrupt silence. We see Carl sitting in a funeral home and we know Ellie has died. Now Carl is a recluse in his old wooden house, which he refuses to sell to developers who build a constricting canyon of skyscrapers around him. Wow! This is serious stuff.
Up is a very good film. It provides laugh-out-loud humor: Russell’s struggle erecting a tent is hilarious. It provides plenty of action, much of it including vertigo-inducing thrills in the air accompanied by an exuberant musical theme reminiscent of the Raiders of the Lost Ark March. Additional comedy derives from the antics of Dig, but Muntz’s pack of jabbering henchdogs grows wearisome rather quickly.
Up gives us things to think about and laugh at, but its most memorable strength is its imagery - as seen in the images below.
Carl’s little house symbolizes his unwillingness to let go of the past. New buildings create a constraining canyon around him. This is no place for a frail structure of wood.
The colorful balloons suggest life and a vibrant hope. Perhaps Carl can fulfill a dream once thwarted by life’s constant exigencies.
Plateau, rock spire, waterfall, and jungle constitute a minimalist little world patterned closely after Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. In the novel, the explorers find it impossible to scale the sheer sides of the plateau. They must climb a solitary spire of rock at the top of which they fell a tree to create a bridge to the lost world.
We see Russell's innocence in contrast with Carl's glum Weltschmerz.
The floating house becomes a burden that Carl must bear. Russell originally came to Carl’s doorstep in order to earn his last merit badge by helping an elderly person cross the street or something.
He never thought he’d have to help an old man pull a floating house.
A variety of shapes and colors makes up this motley crew of heroes.
Whether you're growing up or growing old, life's a risky thing.