Whenever a new Pixar movie comes around and everyone struggles with superlatives to praise it, they usually tend to focus on one element, lest they sound like they're merely repeating their review of the previous Pixar film. RATATOULLIE has the best script; FINDING NEMO has the best design; WALL-E is the most artistic; CARS is the least good, ect. With their latest film UP, the point of praise is going to be pretty easy, as it's easily the funniest Pixar film to date. The ads may be selling UP as a fantasy/adventure, and it certainly has those elements, but what everyone will be talking about afterwords will be the comedy, and justifiably so. Some of the biggest laughs I've had in a movie in the last few years are in UP, and like any great comedy I find myself looking forward to seeing it again in order to see what I missed when I was laughing so damn much.
My favorite Pixar film to date remains MONSTERS, INC., which was also directed by Docter, and the two share remarkably dense, clever and creative screenplays (this one written by Peterson, Ronnie del Carmen, and an uncredited Thomas McCarthy) to their immense credit. With both pictures they're populating these worlds with not just memorable characters, but unique ones - all of them funny and fresh and unlike most anything you see in movies these days - and then go wild with them. The best example (and my favorite, as evidenced by the accompanying pictures) is unquestionably Dug, the talking dog (voiced by Peterson), who is one of the most charming, lovable and unique characters to come along in most any movie in a long time. I got to see a rough version of the opening 45 minutes of UP at last December's Butt-Numb-A-Thon, and not knowing very much about the picture I was delighted when Dug popped up and had hoped that the filmmakers would keep him and some of his most hilarious moments ("Squirrel!") out of the public eye until the film's opening. Well, if you've seen the film's trailer then you know that idea has gone to hell, and even though the cat (or dog) is out of the bag, I'm still a little reluctant to go into detail as to just what makes Dug so great. But I will say this: Docter and Peterson have created the first movie dog that I can remember that personifies just why dogs are so great in the first place. The unrequited love and affection they give, their excited and inquisitive nature and their honesty and devotion are much of what I love about dogs, and I see all of that here in Dug. He feels to me like what a real dog would say if he could talk (or if his thoughts could be read), and on top of all that, Peterson does a wonderful job voicing him, and his line readings are so hilariously perfect in many cases that Dug may very well be my favorite Pixar character of all. What's also wonderful about him is just how unexpected his presence in the picture is; at no point are you expecting a talking dog to pop up, and when he does, you're wondering jst where they'll go with it, so the fact that he makes UP so wonderful is, to me, a true testament to the creativity if Docter and Peterson. I haven't had a childlike reaction to a movie character like this in ages, but I think that says something about Dug, and I also think it's quite likely that many others will soon feel the same once they see him.
Something else that's refreshing about UP is in how it restores the simple sense of fun and adventure back into Pixar's filmmaking. The last few Pixar films have all been ambitious to a fault, as if they knew that by being Pixar movies they all had to be something other than mere entertainments and had to say something "important" to prove their worth. UP is just fun, plain and simple, though it is by no means lightweight or insignificant, and by not taking itself too seriously it's actually Pixar's best in a while. It's not heavy-handed, self-important or cloying, it's just a well-told yarn that gives off nothing but 100% entertainment and leaves you with a big 'ol smile on your face. There are definitely moments of poignancy (especially at the beginning) and through the sheer likability of the characters it proves it's got a lot of heart to go along with the laughs. Anyone who knocks this for not being WALL-E is exactly the type that this picture mocks, those who can't truly live and enjoy life. Yes, there are a lot of movies about fulfilling your dreams and have an adventure no matter what your age, but so many of them are phony and half-hearted, while UP is one of the few that truly seems to get it. Everything this movie accomplishes it does so because it feels totally genuine and heartfelt, and it doesn't condescend to the audience in any way. UP is exactly how you feel when you leave the theater and how you remember the film long afterwords, and it's going to stay that way with you for a long time. Squirrel!