Tuesday 3 November 2009
Brian Viner: 'Up' and away with you, critics
There are certain films we are almost arm-locked into admiring
A few days ago I went with my wife and children to see Up, the new feature film by those brilliant animators at Pixar. As you are perhaps aware, Up has been lauded to the skies as one of the greatest achievements in animated film-making since Walt Disney doodled his first mouse.
In this very paper, my colleague Anthony Quinn, the finest film critic in the business and a hard one to please, gave it a whopping five stars. Among similarly rapturous reviews, Total Film saluted nothing less than "The Greatest Moment In Movie Animation", this being the early montage charting the life of Up's hero, a curmudgeonly septuagenarian called Carl Fredricksen, and that of his late wife Ellie, from their childhoods, through their childless but happy marriage, to her death.
In the short time since Up came out folk have practically been queuing up to confess to weeping buckets during this sequence, most recently the sensible Radio 1 DJ Jo Whiley. Features editors have used it as the peg for pieces on the greatest weepies ever made. It's A Wonderful Life? Terms Of Endearment? Life Is Beautiful? Up has quickly taken its place in their illustrious, tissue-soaked company.
I duly went expecting to adore it as much as everyone else, man-size Kleenex poised. Maybe that was part of the problem. Whatever, here's a really embarrassing confession: I thought the Carl and Ellie montage gruesomely mawkish. It's not as though I'm flint-hearted – on the contrary, it only takes the melting of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music to prick my tear ducts – but nor did I find anything remotely cute about the little boy in Up who befriends Mr Fredricksen.
Like the film's big bird and talking dogs, he's just weird and annoying. All of which could be put down to a bad day at the office, or the stirrings of a cold, except that my wife and kids independently reached the same conclusion. Yes, the animation's fantastic. But we all thought Up too surreal to be truly enjoyable.
What this amounts to is cultural treason. There are certain films, books, plays, songs, paintings, television programmes, and indeed writers, singers, artists, actors and for that matter newspaper columnists, that we are not merely expected to admire, but almost arm-locked into admiring at first by critics and commentators, and in due course by public opinion. Do you find Citizen Kane tedious, or think Laurence Olivier a ham, or Frank Sinatra average, or Dad's Army unfunny? Did The Catcher In The Rye leave even your teenage self cold? Then you're out of step with the critical mass, which is never a comfortable predicament.
So I'd like to state here my support for individualism of the critical faculty, for opining against the tide. I'd like to, but regrettably I can't. We recently lent some good friends our DVDs of the first series of The Thick Of It, certain that they'd love it. We could hardly wait to be able to laugh with them about it. Yet they found it singularly, irredeemably unamusing. Idiots.
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