Monday Night Film Club hasn't, unfortunately, been happening much lately, so when a friend offered me a free ticket to an advance screening of Up, Pixar's latest triumph, I jumped at the chance.
But first, as ever, before the main title came the latest short - Partly Cloudy. And, equally predictably, it was a beautiful little gem. Telling a wordless story of storks collecting babies, human and animal, from their cloud factories and centring on a hard done by bird forced to deliver the young of all the most violent animals. I won't spoil the ending for you but, suffice to say: genius!
The film opens with a young boy, Carl, watching a news reel at the cinema, telling of a legendary explorer whom he worships, his trip to Paradise Falls (based on Angel Falls, located at a table-top mountain in Venezuela) and subsequent disgrace. He leaves the cinema intent on pursuing a career in exploration, in the process encountering Ellie, a similarly inclined girl. There follows a ten minute montage that charts their life into old age, time and again showing how fate prevents them from travelling until finally Carl is left a widower.
Adults be warned, this is not the only point in the film where you may need to dry your eyes. I wasn't seeing it in 3D, but the New Statesman notes that doing so behind the glasses is a challenge.
Finally we reach the present day where the house in which they spent their lives has been crowded out by developers and their sky scrapers. Amidst his dogged refusal to sell up, an unfortunate and all to understandable altercation leads to him being ordered to be sent to a retirement village. Instead, Carl ties a vast number of brightly coloured helium balloons to his house and flies away, destination Paradise Falls.
At this point, you will either suspend your disbelief or you won't. So powerfully emotionally grounded is the narrative that only those with a heart of stone should have any trouble doing so and enjoying the glorious hour or more of magical realism that follows. There is no need to quibble this, or other aspects such as whether the number of balloons would provide sufficient lift, or whether dogs can be made to talk.
You may, of course, be wondering whether there are any laughs at all. There is no cause for concern. Unlike Cars, this is an extremely funny film. Carl is saddled with Russell, a young boy scout (or equivalent), desperate to gain his assisting the elderly badge and, as the film progresses, an increasing host of side kicks including a talking dog and a giant flightless bird. It is these interactions that provide much of the comedy. On top of this come such things as the malfunctioning collar of the Alpha dog, giving him a voice like Yeardly Smith and some crazy action, particularly in the finale.
The animation is beautiful, though perhaps not quite so visually stunning as was the case in Wall-E. While the table-top mountain looks impressive, the real thing is better.
However, unless I'm very wrong about the demographics of this blog, such factors aren't the reason it is worth going to see, which is Carl's poignant emotional journey, realising what things are really important; the extent to which the house comes to inhabit the film as a character; the way Ellie's presence haunts the narrative.
Only occasionally does it cease to overflow with originality: the bird's first appearance is rather too reminiscent of confrontations between the Road Runner and Wile E Coyote (fortunately the similarity passes quickly), and the reappearance of the aged explorer, still bent on its capture, rather too predictable. But such reservations are insignificant.
This is not only one of the finest films it's been my pleasure to see this year, it is one of Pixar's finest to date and I cannot recommend it highly enough.