Mark Simon has had it Up to here -- and wants to go even higher with the Pixar film.
I had the pleasure of seeing Up two weeks before it opened. Oddly, I was less enthused about Up than any other Pixar film. I never got the feeling there was much of a story to Up. The marketing made the concept seem rather light. I asked around and the other people in my office didn't have any idea what it was about either.
As I sat in the theater, though, I was first treated to Partly Cloudy, Pixar's latest short. Not that I've seen too many cloud animations, but this was easily the best. The characters were so soft, yet were still tangible characters. And like all Pixar shorts, it told a wonderfully touching story with no dialogue. Fantastic.
Then the main event began. Up begins as a love story. We live through Carl Frederickson's (Ed Asner) marriage to Ellie. Their romance is told in wonderful silent storytelling. I'm a huge fan of any story that can be told without dialogue, or as Syndrome from The Incredibles would say, "Monologuing."
Once Carl decides to take off on an unfulfilled adventure, the true buddy picture begins. The 78-year-old curmudgeon Carl flies to South America with 9-year-old dim stowaway wilderness explorer Russell, voiced by newcomer Jordan Nagai.
Up is an uproariously funny adventure. I found myself laughing, along with the rest of the audience, continuously throughout the movie. This is Pixar's funniest film since Monster's, Inc. (Pete Docter's directorial debut).
Squirrel! (You have to see the movie to appreciate this.) What I also found was quite a great story. My fear that this would be a light concept was shattered as I was carried along on a grand adventure and thrust into an exciting battle against age-old intrepid explorer Charles Muntz, voiced with passion by Christopher Plummer.
So enough about the story. What about the animation? The look of Up is different from any other CG movie I've seen. I saw this in standard 2-D projection, and it still looked like I could reach around the characters and grab them. I can't wait to see this in stereoscopic 3-D.
Squirrel! The character textures look like a soft velour puppet, but animated with perfection. Yet it always looks like a cartoon. Fun colors, cartoony action and slapstick humor make it a refreshing romp.
I was also amazed to see Carl's beard growth throughout the film. You can actually see his day-to-day facial hair growth. I've never seen that in an animation before and it added a wonderful realism without becoming too realistic.
Another thing: Last week I got e-mails from a couple of people, including Roger Moore, the film critic at the Orlando Sentinel, regarding the design of Russell. Roger noticed a similarity between my Timmy character from Timmy's Lessons In Nature and Up's not-so-intrepid explorer Russell. Moore questioned if Timmy (created in 2000) was the inspiration for Russell.
I can see his point. Both of our characters look like moronic, bacon-eating, no-neck, upturned-nose, 9-year-olds in the same boy scoutish uniforms with an over-sized backpack and protruding belly.
But then again, this August and September will see the feature releases of 9, Nine and $9.99, two of which are animated and none influenced another. Nothing is truly original.
Many of you have heard me talk (or read) about how often similar ideas are created with no relation to one another. (Deep Impact and Armageddon in 1998 anyone? Dante's Peak and Volcano both in 1997?) Most of us are subject to many of the same concepts, images and events in life and anything that is popular is bound to be satirized by multiple people. The idea of an annoying Boy Scout is nothing new. How many different ways are there to make fun of something like the Boy Scouts? I'm sure many of you have characters similar to Timmy and Russell. In this case, I can't help but feel that my Timmy character is in the best possible company.
So thanks for the thought Mr. Moore, but Pixar doesn't need my help. I will be happy with the enjoyment of repeat viewings of Pixar's 10th straight and well-deserved hit, Up.
Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director. He is co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com, the ultimate resource for TV show creators. He is offering AWN readers a free month of his TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards. Go to www.TvPitchTips.com and register for your weekly audio postcards of insider Hollywood pitch tips, tricks and secrets.