Earlier this year, I penned an article that questioned whether Pixar would, in some way, go on to regret making Up. It was a piece written out of fear more than anything else, as, at the time, merchandising companies were shunning the film and holding guns until the far more marketable Toy Story 3 turned up in 2010. As it turned out, it’s doubtful whether Pixar has any regrets whatsoever, and deservedly so. The film’s US box office take has been sizeable, after all. Pixar, to its immense credit, has been taking sizeable gambles for years, and its animated output is bolder than the combined efforts of its competitors. As things stand, long may it reign (although we have an eye on Sony ImageWorks off the back of Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs).
I liked Up a lot (more than Mark Pickavance, although he raises many fair points in his review). I think it shares a problem with Wall-E in that its finest, boldest moments are gone by the halfway point. Yet Pixar contines to put material on the screen that’s simply unmatched by anyone in the live action or animated fields.
My initial reaction on the way out of seeing Up, however, was just how some of the younger audience might react. The bright visuals and striking trailers scream family-friendly, and yet there’s that sequence early in the film that counts as one of the most moving passages I’ve seen played out on the big screen in years. If you’ve not seen Up, now’s the time to turn away.
Okay. I’m referring, of course, to the sequence that plays the life shared by Carl and Ellie. Played out with dialogue put to the background, this is a stunning piece of work, as the romance between the pair blossoms, and they eventually marry. But the same sequence then takes some really haunting turns. Firstly, the moment where Carl and Ellie realise they can’t have children – and this is a kids’ movie! – is both stunning and utterly moving. It’s done quickly, and it’s a hugely brave thing to put in a movie of this ilk. Then, of course, there’s Ellie’s illness and death, which hits you like a wallop to the stomach. If there was anyone on the planet who had any doubts left as to the majesty of Pixar, then that should have eradicated them once and for all.
My thoughts since seeing the film, and it’s stuck firmly in my mind since, is whether this is a Bambi moment for the current generation. Back in the 1940s, it’s fair to assume that families traipsed in to see Walt Disney’s latest, and found themselves confronted by the sudden, unexpected death of Bambi’s mother (which was, of course, never seen, even though the shooting was mapped out: it was removed for fear that it might, er, traumatise young children). In the 80s, we had E.T., of course, and most of us who saw that knew that trauma was coming. And while it’s unlikely that a bunch of kids are streaming out of seeing Up in tears – it is early in the film, and Pixar managed to kill Nemo’s mother at the start of a movie without leading to mass breakdowns – the scene does lodge in the mind.
And I wonder: when the current under-10s are writing articles and making lists of the most haunting films of their childhood in 20 years time, will this new generation will have Up right near the top?
Most family movies in recent years, with one eye on the billions that can potentially be made out of merchandising (which is the real goal, far more than box office gold), have little edge about them whatsoever. There’s a clutch of them that play as extended trailers for the toys, videogame, clothing and such like. And as a result, these films are so reverential to their target audience that they make sure they stay steadfastly within the comfort zone of a younger viewer. Up, in spite of its many crowd pleasing moments, really doesn’t. It takes a real-life issue that’s going to face many, and simply doesn’t shirk it. It doesn’t make a fuss; it just does what it’s going to do. Much like the demise of Bambi’s mother, in fact.
Whether Up goes on to attain the status of Bambi in time to come is, of course, a question we won’t know the answer to for a good decade or two yet. But no matter whether it does or doesn’t, because here’s a family film that doesn’t pander, and thinks nothing about lacing its dish with a big, unexpected dose of reality. My original thought after seeing it was whether I should take my kids to see it or not. I’ve concluded that it’s right to, that I can’t hide real life from them, and they’ll likely really enjoy the film (well, my one-year-old probably won’t, but she’ll certainly enjoy sleeping through it).
That said, if my offspring end up in therapy 20 years down the line as a result, it’s all Pixar’s fault. And if they kill off Buzz in Toy Story 3, that might just push a generation of kids over the edge…