Precious Bodily Fluids

Up

UP

With recent stuff like Ratatouille and Wall-E, Pixar has set the bar so high for itself that no one bothers to hold others to its standard. (Like poor Dreamworks; did anyone see Shrek the Third?) The other side to this double-edged sword is that when Pixar releases a merely “good” movie instead of an amazing one, we are slightly let down. When the trailers came out for Up, the public reaction was bafflement over just what this movie could possibly be about. Something about the image of a house lifting up off its foundation by thousands of colorful balloons and a cranky senior citizen at the helm was bait enough for the hungry curiosity of the masses, and the prospect of seeing said image in 3-D didn’t hurt, either. The 3-D appeal was strong enough for us that when we arrived and were even seated in the theater before realizing that this was not a 3-D showing, we walked out, got rainchecks for a 3-D showing, and returned to the theater over an hour later. As for the 3-D, it was fun in parts, but one can see perhaps why 3-D movies died a quick death back in the 50s when Hollywood was experimenting with crowd-pleasing technology. At first a novelty, the law of diminishing returns sets in quickly, and most of the time the film seems overly dimmed from the glasses. With good enough animation (which Pixar has), it might not be necessary to go the 3-D route. Or maybe they just didn’t do a great job with the 3-D technology in this case.

UP

As with previous Pixar efforts, Up employs shameless use of melodrama motifs. This is most powerfully and overtly evident in the long montage of the protagonist’s life (Carl, voiced by Ed Asner) together with his childhood flame and, eventually, wife Ellie. Ellie’s death at the end of the montage is reason enough for the filmmakers not to allow viewers to become too attached to the character. The target audience for this film is, in many ways, children. The early sequence’s end with Ellie’s death is so punctuated (with a slow fade-out) that one young viewer in our audience worriedly asked, “Mommy, is it over?” Truth be told, this sequence in the film is effective and well-composed. The sense of loss at its end may be too powerful for the rest of the film to recover the audience’s sense of urgency. The film negotiates the loss of Ellie by having Carl subsequently address both his house and his mailbox as “Ellie.” The destruction first of the mailbox and eventually also the house may be a lesson in the reality of death, despite attempts to deny it, but the film struggles to find ground on which to mourn; fitting, since Carl literally floats through much of the film.

UP

Naturally, Carl needs human contact again, and his lack of social relationship since losing Ellie makes him ornery. Enter the character of Russell, whose lack of a father and love for exploring makes him the perfect candidate to whom Carl can reach out. Here is where Up struggled a bit, especially in comparison to previous Pixar films. The chemistry between Carl and Russell is not what we saw between Wall-E and Eva. A certain predictability slowed viewer interest in Up and caused the resolutions to seem rather inevitable. This is ironic, since the premise of Up defied predictability. The film’s embrace of overdone stereotypes, even in the confines of a really unique idea, robbed the big picture of its grandeur.

Up2

And not to get into gender issues again, but Up is remarkably phallocentric. The film kills off Ellie in its first act. All the main characters are males. One of the two friends that Carl and Russell make on their journey is a bird that Russell names “Kevin,” then finds out later that Kevin is a female. (For extra humor, they continue to call this female bird “Kevin.”) But Kevin only squawks – doesn’t speak at all. On the other hand, the other friend they make is a dog named “Doug,” who is equipped with a device that translates his thoughts into English. Doug, along with every other dog with this device, is a male. At the film’s very end, Russell’s mom makes a very brief appearance, clearly as the only source of stability in Russell’s life. But when Russell pours his heart out to Carl earlier, he says nothing of his mother; only that his father is never there for him. Are fathers that much more important than mothers? Even the bad guy in this movie (voiced by Christopher Plummer) is a guy…although that was probably a wise decision, considering. With few exceptions, this is a common theme in Pixar’s work. At least Toy Story, Monsters Inc., The Incredibles, and Ratatouille feature very traditional gender roles, and the others tend to do the same. This is simply an interesting side note. Undoubtedly, repeated viewings of this film will foster greater affection and appreciation for its subtleties. Canning the 3-D glasses will also help.

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This entry was published on June 3, 2009 at 11:01 am. It’s filed under 2000s Cinema and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Up

  1. Tú me sabes on said:

    First, forgive my ignorance, but how do you get the stills from a movie that’s still in theaters? Second, why do you say the film is ‘phallocentric’ instead of ‘androcentrism’? Third, is the lack of female characters have to be a matter of sexual/gender discrimination? Fourth, I confess that in a desperate moment of weakness we picked up ShrekIII at Redbox. It was silly and worth $1.07 for a good laugh.

  2. Well, well. Yo te sé, indeed. (1) It’s been a challenge to figure that out. This is why most of the in-theaters stuff (or for you, “in-theatres”) that I write about doesn’t feature a lot of stills. I found this site recently, however, (www.allmoviephoto.com, I think) that has stills from stuff recently released and not yet released. The images are mostly promotional, there for reviewers and advertisers to use.

    (2) I don’t think you’re going to encounter any form of the word “androcentrism” in film studies. Chalk this up to an affinity for Freud, who infused “phallocentrism” with much more than a merely anatomical meaning. As you know, it has strong connotations of power, that particular kind of power associated with conventions of male-ness. The “phallus” both does and does not refer to the male organ, and usually the latter is truer than the former. This is where Levi-Strauss and other semioticians meet with Freud’s psychoanalysis and give birth to a heavily symbolic notion of the “phallus.” The film “Up” follows tropes of phallocentrism to the T. This is most easily seen in the lack of voice (one of the most common referents of the “phallus”) given to any female character. The females are largely mute in this film, and the film’s overtness about giving males a voice (the dogs…but have you even seen it yet?) makes it ripe for this kind of observation.

    (3) I don’t know what qualifies for sexual/gender discrimination; these days, not much, I fear. I just found it remarkable how old-school “Up” is in terms of its gender roles. Old patterns are being followed here: kill off the female character early on, make the females that remain humorless characters (other than their own stupidity; there’s no question this is going on in “Up”), deprive females of a voice, focus the narrative around a male or males, uplift paternal obligations as the pinnacle of the ethical code, and make sure that the females featured are defined only in terms of the maternal. I guess it’s sort of ironic that Pixar, the most technologically and creatively progressive of the animated film studios, continually employs these old codes. It must be for safety’s sake; they’ve always worked, so stick to them. Think about Bo Peep in Toy Story (and the macho male presence there). Cars had the same stuff going on. The Incredibles is a shameless apologia for the nuclear family and accompanying conservative values and roles. Ratatouille acknowledges outright that the world it portrays is a male-dominated one, and although it attempts to be “progressive” (allowing a rat, heretofore excluded from human kitchens, to cook), the two main characters who finally make headway in a world of culinary stubbornness are male characters. Incidentally, Remy the rat’s core family consists of a brother and a father; no sister, no mother. This is all just very interesting.

    Of course, you may just be jerking my chain here. In which case, my response to you about “phallocentrism” is that film people just like saying the word.

    (4) Thanks for your confession. I imagine that Shrek 3 appealed to couples who dress up as Shrek and Fiona in the same way that Star Trek appeals to people who grew up wearing Spock ears and playing with tricorders.

    Congrats on provoking the longest reply I’ve ever left here.

  3. Culebra on said:

    No. Not yanking yer chain. Interesting notes on Pixar’s conservative stance. I wonder if it’s any coincidence that Pixar makes kids’ movies. Could they be intentionally countering the societal ‘disintegration’ of the nuclear family? Perhaps they recognize what kids round the world know intuitively and what sociologists know by observation: the traditional family establishes the safest boundaries. Then again, maybe it’s neither a matter of intentionally inculcating an ideology OR of sexual discrimination. It could be, as you suggest, simply the all-powerful dollar that directs the films. As ‘everyone knows’ men/boys have more fun, so there are more opps. story lines and thus higher chances of making the big bucks.

    Never heard of a tricorder.

  4. Though many might apply the a priori fallacy to that reasoning, it may well be correct. (Most truths commit that fallacy, it seems to me.) I think there’s a general formula that’s strikingly conservative working in most film genres. Look at (or don’t) the recent exercises in crudeness: The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Super conservative, ideologically. The former promotes chastity (versus promiscuity) and the latter responsible parenthood (versus abortion, the more “natural,” “politically correct” “choice” nowadays). Interesting how these ideals continue to appeal to the masses and therefore also to the studios, who will take a dollar any way they can, whether by liberal or conservative means. (Of course, there’s something quintessentially conservative about movie studios, in all their capitalistic glory…odd how so many alleged progressive liberals come out of them.)

    Never heard of a tricorder? Dude.

  5. I sooo love this movie!

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