A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, March 22, 2010

On Video: Up

The genius of Pixar, it seems to me, lies in their ability to take ordinary, everyday features of life and turn them into extraordinary tales of adventure with great flair and humour. The fact that they have been able to consistently create stories that resonate with so many, speaks to the immense powerhouse of creativity within the studio. To be able to breathe life into computer generated images and transform them into sympathetic characters time and time again can be quite a gamble. And yet, since the release of Toy Story in 1995, the animation house has shown itself capable of successfully capturing the hearts and minds of audiences again and again.

Up works largely because it is the kind of film that taps into the basic core of what it means to be human. It plays on our deeply entrenched instincts that life is short and for that reason, it should not be lived alone. Furthermore, the story also buys into the notion that the spirit of adventure lurks within each soul no matter how timid or embittered. Here, Carl Friedricksen is the everyman -- in an skillful piece of cinematic storytelling we see him live, love and age within a short space of time. Sadly, however, in his sunset years, Friedricksen exists in self-imposed isolation while the world outside of him changes without recourse to him. He has become, in the place he was born, a stranger.
In a last ditch effort to find some meaning to the end of his life, he returns to a childhood dream, to embark on an adventure that will take him, not to the end of the world, but to the end of himself. At that point, Friedricksen embraces the most important lesson of all -- that it is not good that a man should be alone. In Up, as it is clearly demonstrated, all too often loneliness leads to bitterness, despair or obsession.

Adventures may be good for the soul but for the experience to be complete, adventures must be shared. Here, Friedricksen finds an unlikely travelling companion: Russell, a young Wilderness Explorer working towards an "Assisting the Elderly" merit badge. Seemingly oblivious, Russell blusters into Friedricksen's self-erected stronghold and challenges the man's seclusion.

Belying the film's many themes is a wonderful emotional journey of one man's need to let go. Apart from everything else that goes on around him, Friedricksen is a man weighed down with baggage and blind to his own stagnation. In a life and death moment when he experiences his paradigm shift, only then is he able to find a new lease on life.

Up is a delightful, moving piece of storytelling. It is sometimes quirky and often humorous but it never loses sight of its emotional centre. In my opinion it's the best thing from Pixar since Finding Nemo.

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