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OhGizmo Preview: Pixar’s Up

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By Evan Ackerman

I’m a big fan of Pixar movies, as you may have noticed. Even so, I was a little bit, um, let’s say, skeptical when I first saw the trailer:

It wasn’t the flying house that I was worried about. It was the crotchety old man versus the slightly chubby, irrepressibly annoying little kid. What a hilaaaarious juxtaposition, as proven by myriads of mediocre sitcoms!

All I can say now is, I should have had more faith in Pixar. Over the weekend, Disney invited us to meet with director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, followed by a screening of the first half of the movie… And at this point, the only thing I’m worried about is how I’m going to survive until May 29th a whole 45 minutes short of the entire movie. More about Up (spoiler-free except for one little tidbit), after the jump.

The overall premise for Up is the idea of feeling overwhelmed and wanting to escape from it all, a feeling that we can all relate to, hence the visual metaphor of the floating house. The main character, 78 year old Carl Fredrickson, is based largely on this idea, but in a very deep and poignant way. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie develop Carl’s character in a manner that Pixar hasn’t really touched before, and it was impressive, although somewhat difficult at times, to watch… Largely because at the beginning, Carl comes to embody that sense of unfulfilled dreams that on some level, most of us feel. As producer Jonas Rivera explains,

“Jokes and gags are funny, but what’s the emotional thing that’s going to stick in someone’s heart and stay with them for hours, days, years… And so that’s what we were looking for, something that really resonates with people. And I think ultimately, the humor will play better if it has that foundation of emotion.”

When you get personally involved with a character, you become more attuned to everything that they experience. Sad things are sadder and funny things are funnier. It takes a masterful touch to make this kind of involvement work in a self-described “action comedy adventure,” but Pixar made it happen.

Up will be the first Pixar movie available in Disney 3D. Pete Docter made a point of explaining how Up was not created to showcase the 3D technology, meaning that there aren’t going to be all kinds of things jumping out at you screaming “HEY LOOK, IT’S 3D!” Rather, it will be a subtle effect that you’ll notice at the beginning, but will gradually blend into the background of the film.

Part of what I was concerned about when I first saw the trailer was that the movie would be not made fantastical enough. The juxtaposition of the two main characters initially seemed so mundane that the whole flying house bit made me raise an eyebrow. But of course, Pixar was well aware of this, and structured the visuals of the movie into “a reality that would support that.” Take Carl, for example: While most people are about seven heads tall, Carl is only three, and he’s built like a brick. And the interior of Carl’s house has been “chunkified,” where everything has been made just slightly too big, giving it the feeling of a doll house as opposed to a real house… It’s a highly effective departure from the tendency of animated films to strive for photorealism, and it makes everything that happens in the movie feel like it could really be happening in the movie.

Well, almost everything.

I’ll leave you with one little spoiler to ponder: just imagine, for a second, that you were to give a dog a collar that translates everything he’s thinking into human speech…

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