What makes a film a classic? Timeless storytelling, iconic scenes, inspired performances and beautiful music, that's what. When you have these ingredients your film is bound to be beloved by people for decades on end. On this section of Filmstrip Memories, I will discuss how some modern movies could become potential timeless classics thanks to the traits I just mentioned.
This week's film is Disney Pixar's Up
Synopsis: 78-year old balloon salesman Carl Fredicksen (voiced by Ed Asner) is a lonely, widowed man who just wishes to live in peace. When his house is threatened to be bought and destroyed by a corporation he attaches a thousand balloons to his house and takes flight to South America in order to make his late wife's dream come true. But little does he know that young Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) has come aboard, beginning a journey filled with thrills, danger and talking dogs!
Why is it destined to be a classic?
If Frank Capra (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's a Wonderful Life) was still alive and making pictures, Up would have been his first animated film. It shares many similarities with Capra's films. It deals with an ordinary man forced to go against the extraordinary and talks a lot about the beauty of life, even during the mundane moments. It celebrates life in a manner that is realistic and whimsical, similar to It's a Wonderful Life and other Capra works.
Despite him being an animated character, Carl is portrayed in a believable manner, a sweet man turned sour due to the death of his wife Ellie, the bitter realization that their dreams never materialized and the threat of losing his house and spending the rest of his life secluded at a retirement home. This is a reality many people face today, making them lose hope and decide to just survive life rather than to live it.
Going back to Capra, his films were also able to find a balance between high drama and grandiose comedy (with "It Happened One Night" and "You Can't Take it With You" being his best examples). Up also manages to do this, with every laugh accompanied by a tear. The laughs come from the film's cast of supporting characters. First is Russell, an earnest boy that is dragged onto this adventure by accident. Despite his hyperactivity he is a boy that just wants to earn the love of his parents and become a great Wilderness Explorer. His relationship with Carl is vital in the exploration of the film's themes of love and friendship. After Carl loses his wife he decides to shut everyone off from his existence. Being together in this adventure forces them to learn more about each other, eventually leading to a change in both characters.
Then there's the sweet and lovable Dug, a yellow dog who has the ability to speak thanks to a special collar. He is a fun character that serves as the film's main source of comic relief. He is part of a pack of hunting dogs that belong to famed explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer, "The Sound of Music"), who also happens to be Carl's childhood hero as well as the main inspiration for his journey. In a bitter twist, though, we learn that due to being stripped of his rank Charles has gone mad, desperately looking for the treasure that will bring back his honor.
That one treasure is the element that brings all the stories together. The treasure happens to be Kevin, a large and colorful flightless bird that is quite rare and hard to find. She forms a bond with Russell, and a large part of the journey is about protecting her and taking her back home to her chicks.
Up is also a fantastic example of symbolism in films. Carl is designed to look like a square, while both Russell and Ellie look like round balloons. Squares are meant to represent how Carl stays cooped in his life, while round shapes represent the life and opportunities that are waiting for him, like the round balloons that lifts his house up. The house also becomes integral in the story. Even when Ellie is no longer alive in the story her presence is felt through the house. When Carl is able to lift it up and bring it to South America he is effectively taking his wife along for the ride. Most importantly is Ellie's Adventure Book, the one item that inspires Carl to escape his fate. All these elements are combined to give film depth, to take what would have been a high fantasy film and turn it into a study of human life and how we associate the things that surround us with the people that bring us the most laughs, happiness and love.
Finally, it has one of the most unforgettable soundtracks ever created for an animated film. Michael Giacchino ("Lost", "Star Trek") understands the story of the film, and is able to compose songs that fit the mood well. Whether a scene requires expressing curiosity and wonder or loss and sadness the score is sure to strengthen them.
Scenes destined to be iconic :
When we first meet Carl and Ellie, they are just children, dreaming of adventure and having a fun time. Once their meeting is over we are taken to their wedding day where we see their life unfold on our very eyes. This scene, called "Married Life", sets the mood for the rest of the film. Through this scene we learn while Ellie means so much to Carl and get to experience with them the joys of having a dream and the pain of seeing them destroyed thanks to the struggles of everyday life. The scene defined the premise behind Up and made the film one of the biggest successes of 2009. Don't be surprised if other films and TV shows imitate this scene in the near future.
The other scene that is bound to be imitated is when Carl first takes flight. This is where the mundane and the fantastic are meshed together to create one great scene. Carl is about to be taken to Shady Oaks Retirement. In a clever move, he returns to his house and unleashes thousands of balloons, effectively lifting the house up and taking flight.
What could keep it from being a timeless classic?
Despite being a huge success at the box office and earning many accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, the film has one big adversary to face: Toy Story. The franchise is one of the most successful Pixar has ever created, easily overshadowing every other franchise in the Pixar canon. It doesn't help that Up didn't receive a lot of push in terms of merchandising deal. The themes of the movie made it so it was hard to market the film through toys and other merchandise (though a videogame adaptation was released as well as some trinkets here and there). Due to this, people are likely to forget the film because Disney and Pixar are bombarding them with merchandise (Toy Story 3 is set to be released in June, and the hype machine is already running at warp speed).
Regardless of what critics or even what I say, it's up to time to decide if Up is good enough to be a timeless classic that transcends decades, eras and generations. But it definitely has all the ingredients in place. Up is an inspirational classic that was released at the right time: a time, in which the world's health was decaying, people are losing hope due to the economy and talks of the end of the world are keeping everyone on edge. It's great to know that Pixar made an exceptional, quirky film regardless of its subjects and characters. We need more films like this.