Blu-ray Review: Up (2009)

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Both onscreen as well as offscreen and via animation instead of live action-- for Pixar more than any other company-- it's all about the journey. With the home entertainment boom finding films doing far better financially on DVD and Blu-ray than when released theatrically, it's become standard operating procedure to include even the most perfunctory behind-the-scenes disc featurette about the making of a film.

Usually such cursory extras are filled with electronic press kit fluff that was circulated to the media before its theatrical release to use as soundbytes in the form of REM worthy “Shiny Happy People” describing any given role, coworker, and film as though it were the “lost ark” of cinematic history that's in the same league as Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.

Luckily, most of the time you can easily see right through the obligatory behind-the-scenes DVD or Blu-ray inclusions, which reveal a lack of commitment by the manufacturers in the hopes of just garnering the revenue. Yet since I began primarily focusing on releases on disc, I've discovered that animation is the one genre that never fakes their enthusiasm and indeed offers the most infectiously creative and life affirming anecdotes along with examples of truly thinking outside every single traditional box during their filmmaking process.

And perhaps because Pixar's offbeat character constructions consistently comprise an ensemble of unlikely outsiders that embark on the most original adventures, it's no wonder that the quality and fascination of their productions translates offscreen to extraordinary making-of endeavors and escapades worthy of a Pixar project.

Having been mentored by the same legends who collaborated on classics like Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo and more, and now under the Disney studio banner, the former CalTech classmates who created Pixar took what they leaned and ventured into the unknown of computer animation. And with this emerging medium they officially jump-started CGI boom in a series of Oscar winning modern classic shorts which led to Toy Story, changing animation forever. And although Pixar proved unafraid of risks by continually trying to top themselves with the scope of their latest opus, overall, they remained true to their Disney education.

Of course, this dictates their understanding that character creates plot and the journey at its core is more vital than the end result. Thereby breaking their projects down to pathos, sweetness, humor, and more that gave Disney the confidence to create the first ever full length animated film, Pixar has delivered an enviable success rate of ten blockbuster films in the company's history.

Despite this, there have been shortcomings as personally, I felt that Incredibles was overrated and suffered from an overly long running time and likewise failed to become hooked past the inciting incidents of Ratatouille and Cars. Furthermore in my mind, the risk-taking studio is at its best when applying the same traditionally Disney style emphasis on storytelling concepts and the idea that authenticity of scale, texture, and character source (eg: if animating an animal, study them) ensured their films would be even greater for having undergone those incredible multiple years-in-the-making journeys.

Unafraid to make us weep like their Disney predecessor did in Bambi by daring to do just that with a heartbreaking song included in Toy Story 2 or a Bambi like death at the start of their brilliant Finding Nemo, Pixar has also dared to ask us to root for inanimate objects and machinery such as that adorable lamp from their first short film that's become part of their logo. They've achieved this feat of love at first sight since in their ten film oeuvre by watching us fall in love with a lonely musical loving garbage collecting robot in Wall-E's brilliant first half, the abandoned toys of Andy's room, and monsters who collect children's screams in Monsters, Inc. but Pixar goes for broke with its most gorgeous sequence yet at the beginning of Up.

Reminiscent of the Charlie Chaplin style homage of unabashed sentimentality in the opening of Wall-E, just moments into Up, we're introduced to a young boy who fell in love with adventure and a girl who felt the exact same way as they span seventy years in a musical sequence. Using "Ellie's Theme" which would be reworked endlessly throughout the film, we see their wordless married life together which would include happiness, heartbreak, bad luck, good luck, and then no luck when at last the couple becomes just one in the form of a sad, widower Carl (Ed Asner) who yearns for his true, lifelong love Ellie who has recently passed away in a retirement home.

Since no doubt very young children may fail to catch the nuances in their relationship biography as the two realized they were unable to have children and were never able to make that wondrous trip in the manner of their Indiana Jones like adventurous explorer hero Charles Muntz, it's a heart wrenching way to open Pixar's tenth film and it's very first in 3-D.

However, just when the nearly life-defeated Carl loses his house and is ordered to go into a retirement home himself, he proves to viewers that even in his late '70s he's still that awestruck adventurous boy at heart. For, instead of parting with the house (aka his “Ellie surrogate”), he attaches an endless amount of balloons to the building and simply flies "up" like a literally “home-made” hot-air balloon.

With the South American destination of Paradise Falls in his sights, Carl is ready to live out his heart-crossed promise to Ellie before realizing that Russell, the young, eager scout who'd showed up at his door eager to assist the elderly for a badge has accidentally managed to hitch a ride on the "Carl Express." Their dynamic in the beginning employs an almost a sweeter version of a Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson or a multi-generational version of The Odd Couple as a surrogate grandparent/grandson duo. And this definitely feels justified when you uncover that indeed, the Grumpy Old Men, live-action Dennis the Menace, and Odd Couple star Walter Matthau was one of the inspirations utilized by the film's three hundred and seventy plus animators.

Additionally, it also feels a bit like Up director Pete Docter's previous film and newly released Blu-ray Monster's Inc. which found John Goodman humanized by his relationship with a young girl when she too is temporarily orphaned into his care by accident into the city of Monstropolis.

Having seen Up theatrically in 3-D in a year that was over-crowded with studios employing the technique, I still feel that it's the most impressive '09 film released in that format because the story was so strong and the animation was so breathtaking it didn't depend on the number of dimensions used to succeed. Therefore, I'm pleased to say it holds up just as well in a gorgeous 2-D transfer to Blu-ray.

Filled with heart and Pixar's now trademark final act of a chaotic chase sequence, Up-- which even surpasses WALL-E-- boasts adventure and surprising revelations about both characters as well which makes their emotionally enriching journey as compelling as the one in the air. Likewise, the Blu-ray offers you an additional short film that almost feels like it was an alternate or deleted introduction to one of its memorable ensemble players because it dealt too much with a new character as opposed to the ones we were following.

Yet you'll want to seek it out right away since it's just as strong as the movie-related short included in last year's WALL-E set, since it centers on the film's immediately irresistible version of Finding Nemo's Dory and Snow White's Dopey in the form of a loyal golden retriever named Dug.

Released in another bestselling budget friendly four disc combo pack consisting of the film in Blu-ray, DVD, digital copy (for your portable devices), Up surpasses the typical bonus feature tradition of Pixar with another disc of fascinating extras that chronicles the epic and life threatening adventures the crew went on to bring us such an epic adventure.

Since their history has involved finding inspiration in Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (and it's American remake, The Magnificent Seven), Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, Gulliver's Travels, and/or Joseph Campbell's Heroes Journey paradigm that was famously adapted for screenwriters by Christopher Vogler, you know the Pixar adventure will go far beyond the feature presentation.

Far beyond just filming in the grass for Bug's Life, by climbing steep terrain and awaiting helicopter rescue in Venezuela, Up's behind-the-scenes is the most intense offering yet. Likewise, it contains fascinating insights into the dedication of their craft which consisted of studying of dog behaviorists and dogs in action, screening The Station Agent and working with Tom McCarthy in the writing stage, and figuring out how to help a young newcomer play opposite Ed Asner, or the countless variations "Ellie's Theme" that are used musically throughout the feature-length work. The extra information compiled on another Disney master edition again makes the film both more enjoyable and also makes you wish they could've strung the featurettes together as a single documentary since Pixar's inspiring commitment to their style of filmmaking is extraordinary.

Yet for Blu-ray novices, I'd suggest skipping the technical home theatre set-up feature since you may just mess up your TV and player's settings and it's such great quality as it is that there's no need. Regardless of that, it's great to see Disney add on help style menus for that as well as how to use a digital copy since no doubt Up may inspire some new first time purchases of the HD technology.

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