Sunday, November 21, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: Up

The Story:  Diamonds are a girl's best friend.  A boy's best friend is his Mother.  So where does that leave the humble cur, which was collectively Man's best friend but has been displaced in both categories?

Up.  Still quite up, in fact.

I was already sold on Up before this scene.  Those who have seen it, and with whom I've discussed it always bring up the dialogue-less set-up story to Frederickson's balloon adventure, a scene of such mute sensitivity and sublime dexterity in the animated form, that just the recall of it can cause the misting of the eyes in the most cynical of viewers.*  Up manages the requisite miracle of all animated features, which is to enchant the kids and engage the adults—the line "No, that won't work" created a 30 second cascading wave of laughter among the "grumps" in the audience, which was met by a quizzical expression on the up-turned faces of their accompanying charges. 

But, this scene was the cherry on top for me. 

See, I have a dog.  A very expressive dog who, though he attempts it on far too many occasions, keeps trying to talk to me.  And, I know, that if possessed of such a wondrous device as a talking collar, this is what he would sound like...and this is what he would usually be saying...right down to the snap distraction ("SQUIRREL!!") that would occasionally pre-occupy him.

Now, it is one thing to break down this scene—the introduction  to "Dug" from the movie Up shot-by-shot.  But, it cannot come close to the artistry displayed by the Pixar creators—thank goodness a portion of it is on-line for you to see the subtleties: the reflexive hind-leg scratch when Russell pats his lower back; the tail that starts talking before Dug does; the reflective mirroring of expressions to his companions; the quick-silver reactions to new phenomenon.  These are all accurate anthropomorphic distillations of basic dog body-language.  That they are paired with the goofy voice (provided by co-director Bob Peterson) and simple construction sentences provided by the red-blinking "voice-collar" is easily too much of a good thing.  But, bring it on.

The speed and movement of this scene I couldn't translate, and too many movements, both subtle and not, fell by the way-side.**  But clicking on any of the stills to blow them reveals a wealth of detail; *** the intricate colors of the flora, the goo-gadgetry attached to Russell's back-pack, the intricate pore-patterning on Dug's nose.  The deeper down you go with Up, the more is revealed, far more than a one-time viewing could ever encompass. 

Any movie that does that is a gift from its shining wrapping paper on the outside, to the invisible sentiment behind it.

Pixar is any movie-goer's Best Friend.

The Set-Up: "You can't take it with you," they say.  "Bah!" says life-long balloon peddler Carl Frederickson (Edward Asner).  About to be "seniored" out of the precious home he shared with his long-time companion, Ellie, he rigs every last balloon he has to the house for one last adventure: a trip to Paradise Falls that he and his late wife never seemed to have the money or time to accomplish.  He has inadvertently brought along Russell (Jordan Nagai), a neighborhood boy-scout trying to earn his last merit badge for "Assisting the Elderly."  Now, they've made it to South America, and with the goal of settling the house down near Paradise Falls, the two tramp along a high escarpment, the house in tow.  They've picked another in a series of distractions—a rare, flightless bird—which Russell has named Kevin, and wants to keep, much to Carl's frustration.  The balloon's are losing helium, and he wants to make it to the Falls before the House makes its last land-fall.  Time is of the essence, but there are always more distractions in a new territory. 


Mr. Frederickson: I see you back there!

Mr. Frederickson: Go on, get away! Shoo! Go annoy someone else for awhile!

Dug: Hey, are you okay over there?

Russell: Huh?

Mr. Frederickson: Uhh...

Mr. Frederickson: Hello?

Mr. Frederickson: Oh!

Mr. Frederickson: Hello, sir! Thank goodness! It's nice to know...

Mr. Frederickson: ...someone else is up here!
Dug: I can smell you!

Mr. Frederickson: What?! You

Dug: I can smell you...

Mr. Frederickson: Hey...
Russell:(chuckles) You were talking to a rock!  Hey! That one...

Russell: ...looks like a turtle!

Russell: Look at that one! That one looks like a dog!

Russell: Errr---augh. It IS a dog!

Mr. Frederickson: What?
Russell: Uhhhh...

Russell: We're not allowed to have dogs in my apartment!

Russell: Hey! I LIKE dogs.
Mr. Frederickson (calling to the voice in the distance): WE HAVE YOUR DOG!!

Russell: Woh!
Mr. Frederickson: I wonder who he belongs to?
Russell: Sit, boy!

Russell: Hey, look! He's trained! Shake!

Russell: Uh-huh? Speak!

Dug: Hi there!

Mr. Frederickson and Russell react in shock

Mr. Frederickson: Did that dog just say "Hi there?"

Dug: Oh, yes!

Mr. Frederickson: RRah!!

Dug: My name is Dug. I have just met you...

Dug: And I love you!

Mr. Frederickson: Uhhh...wa...wha..

Dug: My Master made me this collar. He is a good and smart Master, and he made me this collar, so that I may talk...


Dug: My Master is good and smart!

Mr. Frederickson: It's not possible.

Dug: Oh, it is...

Dug: ...because my Master is smart!

Russell: Ooooh! Cool! What do these do, boy?

Dug: Hey! Would you...(dial click)quero contigo...(dial click) Ah use that collar...(dial click)konishiwa hanishwa...(dial click)to talk. I would be happy if you stopped.

Mr. Frederickson: Russell!

Mr. Frederickson: Don't touch that. It could be...radioactive or something!

Dug: I am a great tracker. My pack sent me on a special mission! All by myself!

Dug: Have you seen a bird?

Dug: I want to find one!  And I'm on the scent.

Dug: I'm a great tracker! Did I mention that?

Kevin runs at Dug and carries him away with a Whump!

Kevin: SQUAWK!
Dug: Hey, that is the bird.

Dug: I have never seen one...

Dug: up close...but...

Dug: ...this is the bird!

Dug: May I take your bird back to camp as my prisoner?

Mr. Frederickson: Yes! Yes! Take it! And on the way, learn how to bark like a REAL dog!

Dug: I can bark. Woof! Woof!

Dug: And here's howling: Arooooooo!

Kevin: SQUAWK!

Russell: Can we keep him, please, please, pleeeeeeeeease!
Mr. Frederickson: No!

Russell: But it's a TALKING DOG!

Mr. Frederickson: It's just a weird trick or something!

Mr. Frederickson: Let's get to the falls!
Dug: Please be my prisoner!

Dug: Oh, please! Oh please, be my prisoner!


Words by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter

Pictures by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson (and too many people to count)

Up is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Walt Disney Pictures Home Entertainment.

For Smokey

* I would say that Up is my favorite Pixar film—I've never not enjoyed and admired one, and the story-crafters at that studio only seem to get better with time—but, that place is still held by Ratatouille, which, to me, made a quantum leap in computer-generated story-telling.

** Keeping this one manageable is why I didn't publish it on time last week.  Apologies are due, but this one was worth the wait.

*** The wealth of which, and the examination of such, also delayed publication.

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