For my third edition of the Movie Perfection series, I wanted to concentrate on a pair of scenes that not only embody Movie Perfection, but really came out of nowhere when I viewed the film I’m about to speak of.
When we watch a film of a certain genre, we come into it with certain expectations at the most elementary level. If it’s a comedy, we want to laugh. If it’s a big budget superhero movie, we want to be wowed by kick ass action scenes and maybe get some good character development in between. And so on and so forth.
Like most movie goers, the story of Pixar and their rapid ascension to kings of animated features has been a joy to watch. From the Toy Story series to Monsters Inc. to Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, this is the studio that seems to hit it out of the park every time. When we know the animated film is Pixar, we expect quality. We expect brilliant animation, a good story, fun characters, and even some moments of emotion (see Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo).
In 2008, Pixar seemed to up its game in many ways with Wall-E, a feature that seemed geared almost as much for adults as it was for their children. And there were emotional moments in that one, too.
But nothing – NOTHING – prepared me for Pixar’s follow-up to Wall-E, 2009’s Up. Let’s get this out of the way first – it’s my favorite Pixar feature. And I knew the reviews were wonderful (as they nearly always are with the company’s films). So when I rented Up shortly after its DVD release, I expected to be highly entertained.
What I didn’t expect was the emotional powerhouse that it was. And nothing shows this more than a montage early in the film that shows the lives of the film’s main character Carl (voiced by Ed Asner) and his wife Ellie. There are no words, just the beautiful musical score of Michael Giacchino (who has scored other Pixar features and the TV show “Lost”). Those few minutes of seeing these character’s lives set to that music threw me for a loop when I saw it. This sequence is for the adults in the audience. It’s about the love of two people. It’s about promises they’ve made to each other. It’s about how promises can be broken because regular life gets in the way. It’s about life not living up to the lofty expectations we make when we’re children. It’s about seeing your loved one’s health decline. It’s about life and death. It’s mature film making at its highest level. And it’s most emotional level.
The sequence of Carl and Ellie meeting as children, getting married, and growing old together is a beautiful sequence. And I won’t lie – my reaction to it did not involve dry eyes. The first time I saw it, I felt like a fool watching it, getting emotional about two animated characters. But we forget they’re animated characters while we’re watching it. That’s what great movies can accomplish. You forget you’re watching a movie and the emotions we feel remind us of times in our own lives and of people we know and love. That’s what Up does in that sequence better than almost anything else I’ve ever seen.
After that amazing musical sequence, we get into the plot of the movie, which involves Carl going on an amazing adventure with his balloon-powered home. The rest of the movie is fantastic.
Later in the movie, though, we return to the story of Carl and Ellie. In the sequence I’ve spoken of, we see The Adventure Book, where the couple are going to chronicle all their adventures all over the world. During most of the film after Ellie’s death, Carl can’t bring himself to look at it because of his intense disappointment in not going on those adventures he and his wife had dreamed of as children. When Carl finally takes a look at the book, he accidentally discovers that before her death, Ellie filled the book in with pictures of their life together. As Carl looks at the book and his eyes well up with tears, he recognizes that those pictures do show the adventures he and his late wife experienced together. And he finally realizes that Ellie was grateful to have such a loving husband in her life. As he looks at the Adventure Book, it closes with a handwritten note from her: “Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own”. Emotional stuff that is handled brilliantly in the movie.
I am not someone who gets teary-eyed a lot during movies, but Up did the trick during both of those scenes… and have every time I’ve watched it since. In the years since I’ve seen it, I have definitely discovered I’m not the only one who had a similar reaction to that movie after talking with friends who sheepishly admit they teared up as well.
Up is Pixar’s masterpiece so far in my opinion and that’s saying a lot. That gorgeous score by Giacchino would win the Oscar, Grammy, and Golden Globe. Up would be nominated for Best Picture. These sequences are the epitome of Movie Perfection. If you’ve seen Up, enjoy this YouTube video of the two sequences cut together. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.