First Night: Up, Cannes Film Festival

It's not eye-popping, but Pixar gives thrills an extra dimension
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The Independent Culture

The highs and lows of Pixar are on show in Up, the celebrated animation company's first feature film made entirely in 3D. It's also the first cartoon to open the Cannes Film Festival and audiences were greeted with red 3D goggles to celebrate the occasion. But watching with tinted glasses cannot hide the deficiencies of this adventure. It is increasingly apparent that Pixar is a company that operates best when dealing with nostalgia. Like the outfit's previous film, WALL-E, Up is superb in setting up characters and a world that hankers over memories of yesteryear, but once the adventure moves into its obligatory action denouement, it enters a world of stereotypes that disappoints.

Indeed, action sequences have been Pixar's Achilles' heel, with overly long and tedious effects letting down Cars and The Incredibles. In Up, the blockbuster moments that should be of Around the World in 80 Days proportions are instead surprisingly uninventive.

Up hits the ground running with newsreel footage of a Baron Munchausen-type adventurer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer) discovering a lost world in a South American forest. This footage proves an inspiration for young Charles Fredericksen (Edward Asner), who bonds with his neighbour Ellie (Elie Docter) over a shared sense of adventure.

A superb montage sequence tells us everything we need to know about the couple: they fall in love; get married; want an army of children; she can't have kids so they choose to dedicate their lives to each other and dream of going to faraway places; this doesn't happen and after a long, happy life together, she dies, leaving Charles, 78, fulfiled with having spent his life with Ellie, if regretting that they never followed their hero Muntz and voyaged to the unknown.

The demise of the American dream is a favourite theme of Pixar films and it is picked up as we see the Fredericksen's home sitting in the middle of a building site, surrounded by emerging skyscrapers. When faced with eviction, Fredericksen decides he'll finally venture to South America.

He unwittingly picks up an eight-year-old do-gooder companion, Russell (Jordan Nagai), a young Junior Wilderness Explorer desperate to get a badge for helping the elderly. At this point, girls are locked out of the story and the nostalgia is supplanted in favour of a Boy's Own adventure. The last moment of unadulterated joy to match the highs of Toy Story and Finding Nemo comes upon arrival in South America, with the introduction of talking dogs and a huge colourful bird named Kevin that looks like the bizarre lovechild of a puffin, dodo, ostrich and peacock.

Apart from the kooky animals (nowhere near as endearing as The Jungle Book ones), the destination is a boring land of plateaus and uninspiring forests. Muntz pops up as a Wizard of Oz-inspired villain. The nostalgic past is replaced by a horrible sentimental present that lacks emotional punch.

The level of animation is superb. Of particular note in Pixar's move to 3D is a refusal to indulge in gimmicks, such as objects flying at the viewer to make them jump. Effort is concentrated on giving an added depth of field, especially when classic shots of cinema such as the camera zoom are mimicked.

The emphasis is on an optical reality rather than just an eye-popping spectacle; even the most spectacular shot, the Fredericksen home's conversion into a flying machine fuelled by thousands of balloons, has a realism not possible in D. It works because it serves the story experientially without being obtrusive and Pixar should be applauded for appreciating that the 3D audience is maturing.