WonderCon 2009: 'Up' is Pixar's 'Gran Torino'
Shame on me for doubting anything with the Pixar brand-name attached, but early material from "Up" had me interested, but hardly giddy.
After seeing 17 minutes from the film as part of Pixar's WonderCon presentation on Saturday (Feb. 28), I'm back on board.
[Find out why after the bump...]
The five extended clips were funny, instantly human and heartwarming, colorful and fresh. They featured the "Up" money shot of the house soaring through the air carried by a flotilla of helium balloons, but also a different side of the story, one involving the flora and fauna of some obscure South American jungle, including a giant bird and a pack of talking dogs. The clips were all set to a strong Michael Giacchino score and accompanied by the sort of dense sound design that would make Pixar a juggernaut in those Oscar categories except that Oscar voters sometimes don't understand sound editing and sound mixing.
What really got me jazzed, something that hasn't been made clear in the Super Bowl trailer, is that "Up" could (should?) actually be retitled "Pixar's Gran Torino."
Now are you ready to buy a ticket on May 29?
"Up" is the story of a grouchy old widower living in a rundown house in a neighborhood that has changed over the years. He's uncomfortable with the new world around him, particularly the friendly, obsequious Asian kid who insinuates himself into the old man's life. I'm not giving anything away if I strongly imply that the chubby Asian kid is going to teach the crotchety septuagenerian how to appreciate life again, or at least see his purpose anew.
Alas, Clint Eastwood isn't voicing the main character in "Up," but if you're looking for substitutes for an animated comedy, you can certainly do worse than Ed Asner. Newcomer Jordan Nagai is supplying vocals for the kid, Russell, and his comic timing and high-pitched tones seem to have the requisite cuteness and comic timing.
One should never, as I've said, doubt Pixar's ability to turn even unlikely subject matter into hits. "Ratatouille" had a title that kids couldn't pronounce and a hero most of their parents would want exterminated and it was big. "Cars" didn't offer a single relatable character or humorous situation, but I'm told children love that movie.
A month or two again, "Up" might have seemed like a tough sell. In an industry that can only sell youth (or only attempts to sell youth), would there be any way to market a movie about a grumpy old git and hit floating house? Then "Gran Torino" made more than $135 domestic.
Obvious put into production many a moon before anybody knew "Gran Torino" existed, "Up" will be able to feed into that wave of Geriatric Chic, but the clips presented at WonderCon give every indication that Pixar has covered its bets. What looks on the surface like a bickering two-hander takes a variety of twists along the way, including the aforementioned talking dogs, who are bound to be kiddie-favorites.
"If you walk into the theater knowing exactly what you're going to get, it's not nearly as much fun as when you go 'Whoa!'" producer Jonas Rivera told the WonderCon faithful.
In addition, "Up" will have the novelty factor of being the first Pixar movie projected in 3D. For me, that isn't much of an incentive, but Rivera explained that "we're treating the screen more like a window looking in," comparing it to a diorama approach, giving the visuals a new depth of field, rather than things popping off off the screen at viewers.
"Up" opens on May 29.