Incredibles 2 (2018)

The_Incredibles_2.jpgPleasant surprises abound in Incredibles 2. What is supremely evident is that Brad Bird still has a pulse on quality storytelling just as the overall animation is blessed by the continual technological advancements in the medium.

Here we are picking up right where the previous film left off with the Parrs donning their disguises to face off against the Underminer to save the city. It works seamlessly as an opening gambit even if it has little bearing on the subsequent plot.

Regardless, it plays like a bit of wish fulfillment and yet somehow we must begrudgingly admit the encompassing magic has somehow left the material. We can never get back the unassuming success of The Incredibles now that it returns as a blockbuster juggernaut. Still, what isn’t lost is the retro cool or the equally frosty camaraderie provided by Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson). Then, the long-awaited return of Edna Mode follows which is equally satiating though far too short.

The creme de la creme was witnessing the full extent of Jack Jack’s immeasurable powers. You can tell the Pixar team has a blast exploring his full potentials and they really hit it out of the ballpark to realize the open-endings they left themselves in the original movie.

However, the film also begins its new chapter by introducing a brother and sister power duo, Winston and Evelyn Dever (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener), who are looking to rebrand the superheroes and sway public opinion to get them reinstated.

Since we still live in a world wary of supers, this is a chance to right the ship and allow the Parr family to exhibit their powers without fear of public backlash. Despite everything they’ve been through as a family, what becomes increasingly apparent is how circumstances haven’t changed much. This is where the new chapter really begins.

On the homefront, they agree Ellen will dawn her Elastigirl attire once more as Bob is faced with the harrowing task of taking care of his children. Jack Jack is literally a bouncing fireball of energy. Violet is having boy problems. Dash is struggling with The New Math without his mother’s instruction. All these issues fall on the man of the house now.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Elastigirl must track down a criminal mastermind, The Screenslaver, who is using television screens to mesmerize audiences through some ultra high-tech form of mind control. But as this is a film full of media and PR tactics, it seems convenient this is all part of a broader conspiracy to discredit supers for good. It’s meeting the Deavor’s plan in an equal and opposite direction — with nefarious implications.

Villainy is always a sense of someone with convictions they believe to be true ultimately getting twisted in ominous ways. It’s easy enough to discern who the culprit is but we can hardly hold it against the narrative.

The story culminates at a summit to promote goodwill between benevolent authority (Isabella Rossellini) and the supers. However, as the result of wide-ranging tampering,  any projected trailer-worthy moments from our three favorite superheroes are essentially killed in a dastardly attempt to sink negotiations.

But what it does do is provide a platform for the Parr kids to strut their stuff. It seems fitting the final act belongs to them following their mother’s ascension to the starring role for the bulk of Incredibles 2. It is the best reminder that the series was always a family affair and far from being just another superhero movie, it was a family movie first and last.

Still, I cannot help but feel something is eerily amiss. Yes, if we reach back into our memories from where we left The Incredibles before it does feel gratifying to add another chapter to their story.

But like Finding Dory from only a few years ago, there’s such a big gap between the chapters, a certain amount of detachment sets in, especially since we are expected to pick up right where we left off. Toy Story 3 takes into account the fact we have matured over the last decade and change.

These newer entries seem to take it for granted that we are near the same places we were years ago. Granted, I understand it’s all but necessary with where we left the Parrs. Still, in a young person’s life seismic shifts have occurred and so if Pixar’s stories have not changed, it feels odd since we have changed so much. We are more out of touch with the content. Maybe we have even moved on.

And yet even as these stories operate as if nothing has changed, there are small things that do feel different. It’s nitpicky to admit but we have a new Dash and other slight changes in the original continuity. True, the Supers were all decimated by the threat of Syndrome but there are really no tie-ins to the heroes of old — I’m talking about the supporting crew aside from Mr. Incredible, Elastagirl, and Frozone.

Because we get this new batch of superheroes who in some strange way feel out of place and we have no reason to like or even care about them. Is this overly harsh? Perhaps but it comes from a space of deep affection for what The Incredibles was able to imbibe and so anything else added to the canon is going to come under a lot of scrutiny.

Where it counts The Incredibles 2 is a worthwhile outing with flashes of nostalgia that can easily pass for rediscovered thrills. Filled in by the stellar, fresh animation and Michael Giaccomo’s score, it might be easy to claim contentment.

That doesn’t mean we cannot still hang on to some of our minor qualms. Because if anything they remain as a testament to how special the original installment was and that is not necessarily a bad thing. It just means we can cherish the first film even more.

4/5 Stars

Coco (2017)

Coco_(2017_film)_poster.jpgIt only serves to show where my mind goes when I watch a movie. I couldn’t help but think of Harry Chapin’s elegiac and stirringly heart-wrenching tune “Mr. Tanner” as I was ambushed with some of the most revelatory notes of Coco. The most meaningful line out of that song relates how music made our eponymous hero “whole.” I feel the same guttural satisfaction blooming out of this picture.

Coco proves to be a film about many things. This is a film about music melded with family. The wholeness that comes out of music when you do it for sheer love and passion. Because you couldn’t live without picking up a guitar or throwing back your head to sing. Serenading family or penning a love song is just an extension of who you are. If you know anyone like that you can thoroughly appreciate what we have here.

In the best ways, it’s also about when families and our passions and the traditions that we’re taught to live by and that are passed down to us seem to collide — wholly impervious to any type of reconciliation on first glance — yet still somehow capable of fitting together.

Our hero Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) is a precocious boy who lives with his family in Mexico as part of a shoe-making matriarchy where they have long been taught to despise music because their no-good great-great-grandfather left his family behind to pursue his dreams as a musician. The conflict is created right there.

Visually it’s another inventive landscape for Pixar to play with under the helmsmanship of Lee Unkrich because though the setting and storyline are planted in the present world of Miguel’s family, it’s infused with rich undertones of Mexican tradition. Not least among those is “Dia De Los Muertos” or “The Day of The Dead.”

Except instead of taking that as a mere tradition or a cultural practice the film translates that into a fully animated reality as Miguel experiences the “afterlife.” There the spirits of his ancestors exist in skeletal form making a yearly pilgrimage to commune with their still-living relatives. Family is still of the utmost importance to their lives and the most tragic reality is to have no one left to champion your legacy.

The hero’s journey laid out before Miguel is direct and compelling so we know what he is up against. He must receive the blessing of one of his blood ancestors before sunrise or else spend his days forever in the land of the dead. Even now he’s slowly losing more of his definition a la Back to the Future (1985). The stakes are obvious and his inner conflict stressed by the very fact that his relatives will only provide their blessing if he gives up his true love: music.

There’s so much else that could be lauded in the film for how it dares to explore its setting much in the way Inside Out (2015) did. It boasts some clever reversals akin to those found in something like Toy Story 3 (2010) and plays on the themes of hero worship in a similar fashion to UP (2009) with Miguel being charmed by mythical singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). It’s also a bit of a Ratatouille (2007) tale of someone pressing against the currents around them to realize their individual gifts. But far from being to the detriment of the film, every one of these similarities is a genuine compliment. Could there be too many themes even? I’m not sure.

However, the idea I was most taken with deserves a bit more explanation. I’ve purposefully refrained from talking about Coco until now. If you were like me you probably assumed that our hero was named Coco or something like that, without giving it much forethought. However, we soon find out that she’s the fairly senile great-grandmother of our main character.

Because a major aspect of this film has to do with this idea that can best be described as transgenerational memory — where we pass down our recollections of the people that came before us to the younger generations. It’s no small coincidence that the lynchpin track is called “Remember Me.” Because in digging into his family’s personal narrative Miguel develops a deeper bond with his great-grandmother. It’s striking how even as we grow forgetful our long-term memory, the entrenched recollections of childhood or even muscle memory, often stay with us. That’s precisely how it is with Coco and Miguel aids in keeping her memories alive.

In these moments I could not help but reminisce about one of my favorite musicians Glen Campbell who passed away just this past year. He was a high profile casualty of Alzheimer’s and yet during his last tour though he could hardly remember the words anymore to his most famous songs, his fingers were just as nimble on the guitar frets as they were as a young man. Amazing. One of his final tunes was the brutally honest admission “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

And I mention it in passing only to suggest that if the idea is that you will only be remembered if other human beings remember you then that’s a terrifying world to be subjected to. As a writer that means that I will fade away unless someone actually unearths some of the mindless drivel I penned and shares it. If I’m single it means I better find someone quick and start a family so my children can not only pass on my gene pool but keep my name.

Even the pervasive theme that two people’s love for each other will live on forever, though a nice sentiment, still rings slightly hollow. Not to be a nitpicker but eternity is a long time. Even a blazing meteor burns out at some point. So if you’re like me maybe Coco will get you to think long and hard about your mortality. I’m not sure the answers are that easy to come by but they’re necessary to consider nonetheless.

In the context of this life at present, Coco fittingly rewrites the negative admonition to never play music with a more positive call to never forget family. Taking the restrictive and making it ripe with promise. That’s something most of us can probably get behind and share with our kids and grandkids as the years go by because we won’t be on this earth forever. The question remains, what do we do if we aren’t so lucky?

4/5 Stars

 

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding_Dory.jpgI heard it from the fish’s mouth that the main question behind this film began to gnaw away at Andrew Stanton relatively soon after the release of his first effort Finding Nemo. The question of, Where are Dory’s parents? Nemo found his father. They got their happy ending. But what about the hapless Dory, always trusting, forever faithful and also hopelessly lost. There’s a story buried there somewhere.

Out of a character who exudes so much joy and positivity, there’s definitely the potential for a lot of heartbreaking moments and this film has those no doubt. After all, Dory (Ellen Degeneres) is a fish who we all know has short-term memory loss and so-called psychological issues often lead to moments of great emotional turmoil, even in fish. This story does have some of those heart-wrenching moments, but it’s also a film of discovery, building off what we already know and love about these characters and reinforcing them in a number of ways.

New and old acquaintances are brought back to the fore namely Crush, Mr. Ray and of course Marlin and Nemo. New castmates including Ed O’Neill, Ty Burell, and Kaitlin Olson entertain us with their own ticks and foibles including faulty echolocation and nearsightedness, reflecting just how much Dory is not alone. Then there are a couple downright oddballs in the dippy sea lion Gerald and a certifiably insane loon Becky, who nevertheless prove their own individual worth.

But it’s the ornery octopus (or septapus) Hank who is the key to much of the plot because it is thanks to his agility and camouflage alone that Dory is able to navigate the Jewel of Morro Bay’s Marine Life Institute with any sort of success. She is, after all, a fish and a fish out of water is far from a good thing.

Still, this film certainly pushes the envelope as far as human-fish interaction. If the fish seemed anthropomorphized before, just wait. Without too many spoilers it gets even more pronounced this time around involving a big rig on the freeway among other shenanigans.  Enough said. It’s a more constrained film, set in and around an aquarium, but the Pixar animators show an adeptness for moving around this world in new dynamic ways with relative ease.

But there’s also a flipside to this. As the voice of God, Sigourney Weaver, so aptly reminds us, “rescue, rehabilitate, release.” That’s the name of the game. Still, it seems like sea life has never been more encroached upon, more endangered or monetized. This negative impact is seen implicitly throughout the film, but it’s never more haunting than the moments when Dory is seen wrapped up in six-pack rings. Being the bright and bushy-tailed tang that she is, no comment is made about it. But in the back of our mind’s we cannot help think about what that image represents. She gets put into captivity for this precise reason, but she wouldn’t have to be removed from her home in the first place if it wasn’t for our own ineptitude as humans.

It’s hard to put a finger on it exactly but there’s also something slightly off about Finding Dory‘s pacing. Perhaps it even has to do with the stakes of this film. It’s not truly driven by some high conflict. Yes, we know Dory needs to find her parents, but there’s something in us that realizes she already has a type of family, Marlin, and Nemo. This idea is explored a little bit while at the same time Dory tries to find her birth parents. But it’s admittedly hard to top a 13-year-old classic and I laud Finding Dory for not trying to do that. Instead, it shows a continued appreciation and care for its characters, in this case, Dory. If Finding Nemo was this rollicking, rip-roaring adventure at sea, then its sequel can best be described as a well-wrought character study. And when that character is such a well-meaning personality as Dory, that’s not a bad thing in the least.

4/5 Stars

Finding Nemo (2003)

Finding_NemoI don’t usually do this because it dates me, but I still remember buying Finding Nemo on DVD, because it was one of the first films I ever bought. It was one of the first films I ever felt was worthy enough to spend my hard-earned birthday money on or whatever the case was.

Certainly, I jest, but I also say this to note just how impactful Nemo was for kids of my generation. Pixar, in general, has left an indelible mark on many folks, but Finding Nemo had it all, garnering inspiration from the vast underwater worlds of the great ocean blue. And as they always do Pixar is able to wholly animate, literally bring to life and attribute human characteristics to non-human subjects, whether they be toys, fish, monsters, cars and so on. But Nemo was near the top of the creative spectrum, and a lot of that sits squarely on the shoulders of its characters. It was the brainchild of Andrew Stanton and with the subject matter of a young clownfish and his overprotective father he found true narrative gold.

However, it was really the supporting characters that color all portions of the frame. First and foremost in\s Dory (Ellen Degeneres), the insanely positively and joyously scatterbrained blue tang who joins Marlin (Albert Brooks) in his quest to find his son. She is the perfect foil to bounce off his dour sensibilities. In time connecting him to a band of recovering sharks with a heavy fish addiction, a band of ultra chill sea turtles, and a silently charitable Blue Whale who propels our two heroes toward their final destination: P Sherman 42 Wallaby Way.

But of course, there are always two sides to every story and Finding Nemo does well to work from both angles. There’s the father who goes on this epic hero’s journey and the lore of the mighty clownfish searching for his lost son begins to take the ocean depths by storm. Meanwhile, Nemo has been placed in captivity against his will in the fish tank of an idiotic orthodontist but spurred on by news of his father, he gains a new resilience. He resolves to make his way back to his dad because he realizes just how much his father cares. It’s a galvanizing experience and he proves just how much he is capable of. Because he disregards any hint of inferiority and realizes his potential–the kind of potential that is not reserved for certain types of individuals, but really anyone who is willing to step out in courage. And that’s how Nemo concludes, by suggesting the importance of family and really pushing ever onward. Just keep swimming. Just keep persevering.

As we wait in exuberant expectation for Finding Dory, it’s nice to reevaluate this modern classic and be rewarded by the pleasant surprise that it truly does hold up even after all these years. The animation is still wonderfully immersive, the characters compelling and the script boasts not only master storytelling from Andrew Stanton but a remarkable melding of both humor and heart. In the modern generations, that’s an extraordinary precious combination and not something that we see all that often. That’s what makes Finding Nemo enduring, and it endures not only for children, but any demographic or audience really. Because Pixar never talks down to their audience or marginalizes certain groups with their humor or a very particular brand of storytelling. In fact, their storytelling is almost classical like the films of old, which were meant for the masses no matter age, beliefs or inclinations. It’s for everyone and it’s a wonderful gift in a century that so often is restrictive and exclusive, even despite its best efforts.

5/5 Stars

The Incredibles (2004)

 

The_IncrediblesCertain superhero storylines are beginning to overstay their welcome. Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and even The Avengers spring to mind. The remarkable thing is the fact that this wildly popular genre headlined by numerous wildly popular franchises does not appear to be leaving us anytime soon. And when the prospects of monotonous superhero film after monotonous superhero film get a little too much, it’s rather comforting to return to The Incredibles. Yet again Pixar proved they knew how to craft animated films with great storytelling, but also a depth of character.

Over a decade ago now Brad Bird helmed a project that would introduce us to a very different batch of superheroes. Yes, they began as individuals named Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible, but soon enough they ceased being that. But these weren’t a ragtag alliance like the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy. They were something perhaps more broken and complicated – a family.

Back in the glory days, the superheroes were civil servants held in high regard – one of the foremost of those being Mr. Incredible (voiced by Crag T Nelson), but they soon fell out of favor due to scandal and public controversy. Thus, they drifted into obscurity and their aliases quickly became their real life.

This is where this story gets interesting, as Bob and Ellen Parr, as they are known now, are living life with three kids. Ellen (voiced by Holly Hunter) is happy to give it a go and live the normal everyday existence, but Bob yearns for something more than rush hour traffic and a cramped cubicle in a thankless job. And when he gets a mysterious message with mission impossible-like implications. He is indubitably intrigued.

He begins moonlighting again, sneaking around behind Ellen’s back not wanting to needlessly worry her. He touches bases with his old friend and colleague Edna Mode (Bird himself), who supplies him with a new super suit sans cape. It’s just like old times with the super getting the respect he once garnered from everyone, and his family is happy and healthy. Everything is looking up.

But of course, behind these missions of his is something a little more sinister than he could have ever imagined. Of course, when his wife catches wind of it she expects something completely different – their marriage must be failing. That’s the only possible reason for him sneaking around.

Thus, mother and two stowaways head to a volcanic island smoldering with destructive peril. Mr. Incredible meets his match and is brought low as his past mistakes finally catch up to him. He realizes his weakness and more importantly how much his wife means to him. He could not go on without her. However, his wife and kids do not wallow in their predicament as they try and save the world from the dastardly deeds of the begrudging supervillain Syndrome. It’s in this final showdown that Mr. and Mrs. Incredible are back in their element with their compadre Frozone (Voiced by Samuel L. Jackson). Except now they are joined by their speedy son Dash and their invisible, force-field wielding daughter Violet, who both feel confident in their skin.  A giant mechanical robot is no match for such a crew, especially when they’re a family.

True, these characters have superpowers and special abilities, but then don’t we all in some way, shape, or form? This is a story about the nuclear family when that dynamic is blowing up, and a story about being comfortable in your own skin, in a society that often makes that difficult. So Pixar does the seemingly superhuman yet again by delivering up a popcorn-action-adventure-family film, that still somehow holds up to multiple viewings. It’s retro cool, quotable, and gives its voice actors space to gel. They breathe life into this story, while their contours come alive on screen. It’s a childhood favorite and for a very good reason.

4.5/5 Stars

Inside Out (2015)

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterIn a generation often bloated with unoriginal ideas, Pixar has been one of the most prominent fountains of creative inspiration. Pete Docter has always been a master class storyteller (“Monster’s Inc.” and “UP”), but “Inside Out” finds him at perhaps his most innovative yet if you can believe it. Not everyone would be audacious enough to make their latest animated film on the inner workings of the human psyche. A film following a girl and her emotions could easily be insensitive or some downer emo tale at best.

However, Inside Out ends up being a wonderful and heartfelt film that comments on a difficult time in life without making the parents flat out buffoons or the children complete jerks. It finds a great deal of its substance in the personified emotions, positive and negative, that course through a young 11-year-old girl on a daily basis. Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and most certainly Disgust.

From the get go it looked to be a veritable field day for stars like Amy Poehler, Mindy Kalig, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Phyllis Smith. In other words, the casting was impeccable and everyone delivers the goods.

As Pixar so often does, the characters are wonderful and the writing develops a tirelessly inventive world full of creative entities for the main players to bounce off of. Our two main settings are essentially San Francisco and the mind, and both come off pretty well, although by default the mind becomes the visual playground of abstraction that lends itself to the most mirthful moments as well as touching enlightenment. San Francisco is the city that ruined pizza. That’s pretty bad.

Above all, I think Inside Out makes a powerful suggestion to its audience. Going in we have a certain set of presuppositions. We live in a society that says joy is good. Sadness is bad. Among other things. However, this film dares to point out that all emotions have their places. All of them are meaningful and there is a season for each. Because as it turns out, without Sadness, you really would not be able to know what true Joy feels like. And that is a beautiful thing. Overall, this is not the best of Pixar, but it is a wholly memorable outing, especially when we are allowed to get inside the heads of each character. That’s when the story is at its creative best. Those jingles in commercials are really annoying too. They really struck a chord with that.

4.5/5 Stars

Ratatouille (2007)

RatatouillePosterOnly Pixar could make me empathize with a rat, and they did it with true style and sensitivity like they have done many times before. Ratatouille is often a forgotten classic that I easily forget in a repertoire that boasts such modern masterpieces as Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and of course the Toy Story trilogy. However, Brad Bird’s tale of a gifted rodent and a hapless chef deserves to get its just desserts too and so I will attempt to do that now.

As was already hinted at, Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a very unique rat, because he has an incredibly sensitive palette thanks to an impeccable sense of smell. He cannot stand digging through the trash heaps like his brother Emile and he has higher aspirations than his single-minded father. One day Remy comes across the revelation of mixing foods and flavors in a culinary epiphany. His family doesn’t quite understand his more cultured aspects (walking upright, reading, cooking, etc.), and it ultimately gets him into trouble.

He winds up in none other than Paris and sitting on a rooftop he sees his own personal Mecca. The restaurant of Gusteau (Brad Garret), the man who famously said that anyone can cook before he was taken down by pernicious food critique Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole). After his tragic death, Gusteau’s lost two of its stars and that’s right about where a young man named Linguini (Lou Romano)  comes in.

He’s a bumbling nobody with little talent and only a note from his deceased mother vouching for his character. The incumbent tyrant of a chef (Ian Holm) reluctantly gives him a job as a wash boy which he barely is able to perform. In a fateful moment, he ruins a soup and Remy drops in to salvage the dish. Now after an initial berating, great things are expected of Linguini after a critic loves his new dish. Skinner suspects something is up.

In this predicament with nowhere to turn, Linguini looks to this little chef, and Remy decides to help him. Thus, begins the strangest of symbiotic relationships as Remy learns to control Linguini who acts as the front for the artistic genius who just happens to be a rat. For a while, it works really well. They keep Remy hidden under Linguini’s hat while also keeping Skinner constantly delusional with visions of rats.

Then, success continues to come Linguini’s way. Thanks to Remy the restaurant is a hot spot once more, he gets the girl Colette, and he has become the main attraction at Gusteau’s displacing Skinner. But it gets to his head a little too much, and he and Remy part ways.

The big night of Anton Ego’s return to Gusteau’s is fast approaching and the culinary dream team is no more. Once again Linguini is lost without his culinary partner. But the ever faithful Remy gets the support of his family and returns to the kitchen to aspire to his dreams. Linguini also finally has the courage, to tell the truth which ultimately loses him the respect of his staff.

However, Remy and Linguini both learn something about family and relationships, realizing the need to be who they are. In a brilliant stroke of genius, the ever resourceful Remy makes a simple yet elegant Ratatoullie. Everyone expects the disdain of Ego and yet it never comes. You see Ego also learns something about himself. Upon seeing the mind behind the dish that took him back to his early years, he remains pensive for once. He finally understands the wisdom in Gusteau’s simple adage.

The voice talents of this film are obviously wonderful, from the impeccably-casted Patton Oswalt to Brad Garrett as the jolly Gusteau and Peter Sohn as rollie-pollie Emile. However, I want to focus specifically on the late great Peter O’Toole.

It is rather extraordinary that just before seeing this film again, I took in How to Steal a Millionaire. It too is set in Paris, involves deception, and has its share of drama. Featured in that film is a younger O’Toole, handsome, blue-eyed and far from world-wearied. But the reality is, he had a hard life and you can hear it in his wonderfully Shakespearian, but still noticeably older voice. He brings such a wonderful lineage to this film, and he turns in one of his great roles. Peter O’Toole was part of a dying breed of theater-trained actors who will be greatly missed for their tour de force performances.  But once again many thanks to Pixar for doing the impossible. In some weird, disgusting way I love rats now.

4.5/5 Stars

“In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.” – Peter O’Toole as Anton Ego

UP (2009)

This Pixar film, starring Ed Asner and Jordan Nagai, follows a retired gentleman, who keeps his promise to his deceased wife by traveling to South America. Carl Frederickson met the love of his life in Ellie, and they got married. However,  pretty soon they were in their later years and Ellie died. Carl wants to keep his promise, and so he heads to South American in his balloon-propelled house. Along the way, he has an energetic boy named Russell thrust upon him. Over time they become friends as Russell tries to help Carl so he can earn a Wilderness Explorer badge. Russell befriends a talking dog named Dug and a giant bird called Kevin, while Mr. Frederisckson accepts their company begrudgingly. But they do run into trouble, and so they have to rally in order to save Kevin from his captors. Although this story seems sad at first, it quickly becomes heartwarming with the addition of Russell. He helps to breathe new life into Mr. Frederickson, and more importantly, they form a relational bond. This is probably the best Pixar film since Finding Nemo.

It always strikes me how wonderfully unassuming this film is. If you told me that a film about an old man traveling to South America in a balloon-propelled house would be this gripping, funny, and heartwarming, I certainly would not believe you. But time after time UP is a joy to watch.

It has one of the moving opening sequences in recent memory, and it does it with pithiness. This is the first sign that this is something special. Each and every time I always find the score so whimsical, and it seems to fit so perfectly with the concept. Another marvel of this film is Russell, the spunky Asian-American kid in pursuit of his assisting the elderly badge. He is a hilarious little boy with a lot to say, and he says it with such expression and energy, which really shows through the Pixar animation. A shout-out must also be given to Kevin and Dug because Russell is the standout, but the film would not be the same without this pair of quirky creatures.

Most importantly, the younger generation learns from the older generation, and in turn, I think Carl learns valuable lessons from his young companion. It is very important to never forget our past, but perhaps more important is making something of our future and living in the present. It is a new type of buddy film that reminds us that friendship, as well as adventure, are out there, we just need to go and find it.

5/5 Stars