‘Up’ Film Touches Hearts of Audiences

by Brandi Giles
Columnist

This year the Academy’s doing it up old school. Instead of nominating the standard five movies for Best Picture of the Year, 10 movies have been nominated, the number that was originally voted on when the award show first began in 1928.

Last year the exclusion of the biggest blockbuster of 2008, “The Dark Knight,” from the best picture category turned a lot of people off. It made the award show seem haughty and exclusive instead of indicative of what movies the American public actually likes to see. That is why we are seeing the nomination of more movies so as to include big budget films like “The Blind Side” and “District 9,” as well as indie films such as “The Hurt Locker” and “Up in the Air.”

Now, whether the movie industry in this country produces 10 films a year worthy of an Oscar is debatable, but that’s not even the most interesting thing about the best picture nominees this year.

Another relatively new development for this category is the nomination of “Up,” a Disney-Pixar film, which is the first animated film to be a Best Picture contender since “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991. The film is a huge hit with audiences and is definitely a shoe-in for Best Animated Feature, but can it really compete against the sophisticated live action films in the Best Picture category? Maybe, but it all depends on which way the Oscar voters decide to go – a film that sheds humanity in a good light or a bad one.

Films that address and critique human failings like “The Departed” (2007) or “Crash” (2005) have been popular with the Academy in recent years. But the triumph-of-the-human-spirit movies, such as last year’s winner, “Slumdog Millionaire,” seem to be making a comeback. “Up” definitely falls in the latter category, though it deals with heavy subject matter, so its ability to actually take the award is really up in the air (no pun intended). But having a great plotline, believable character development as well as humor, it was certainly worthy of the nomination.

Most people I am sure have already seen the movie, but humor me while I give a brief summary for writing formula’s sake. Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is an elderly man who has just lost his wife. The two of them had built a deep and loving relationship on the shared love of famous aviator and explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and the place where he went on a self-imposed exile, Paradise Falls. After her death, circumstances come about which threaten Carl’s ability to remain in the home they shared, which prompts his decision to take a little trip. Attaching umpteen thousand balloons to his chimney, Carl floats away in his house. The intended destination? Paradise Falls. With the initially unwanted help of young Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai), Carl takes his house on a South American adventure, encountering exotic birds, talking dogs and mad geniuses along the way. Because of the experience Carl is able to come to terms with his wife’s death and prove once and for all that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

One thing I really like about this picture is that its main character is a part of a group not represented very often in media, at least not in a positive light. Yes, Carl is a cranky old man, but the film provides a storyline that allows you to see how he progressed to that state. Carl’s wife was a major source of positivity in his life; he developed a bad attitude to keep people away as well as mask his grief of losing her. That this comes across crystal clear in the movie is attributable to the skill of the filmmakers.

I also love how the plot focuses on an intergenerational relationship. Very old and very young characters are not usually drawn very complexly in animated movies, but Carl and even little Russell display a refreshing multidimensionality. The movie is effortlessly heartwarming due in large part to the interaction of these two characters. You care about them and even the less developed characters such as Dug (Bob Peterson) and the snipe. Any movie that can awaken such feelings for inanimate objects is definitely worthy of any award the film community can bestow.

Though “Up” may not win the top award, it has definitely succeeded in winning top honors in our hearts.

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