It has been a while since I have watched some movies. Time to catch up.
For Pixar to make a movie as good as last year’s WALL-E would be quite a trick. With the recently released Pixar movie Up, we get something that is nearly as good. It proves that while Pixar cannot always hit their movies out of the ballpark, it can regularly score homeruns. There is nothing in this digitally animated movie that anyone will complain about and much to savor.
I have a personal connection to this movie, in that my first cousin Ken Bruce was one of the story artists for the movie. Ken, who expends most of his talents on shows like Fairly Odd Parents, spent a few years working for Pixar and worked on this last project before he left. However, I have no particular bias toward the movie due to my cousin’s involvement with it. This is just a generally delightful animated movie that will offend no one but it probably best suited for the younger set. Ed Asner is the voice of Carl Fredericksen, an old coot who lives in a house that is rapidly being swallowed by the city around him. He was dopily devoted to his wife whom he met as a child and who recently passed away. Rather than move into a retirement center when pressed, he elects to tie thousands of helium balloons to his house instead, and uses them and a pair of wind sails he created to steer the house toward South America. There he hopes to find a mysterious waterfall that his late wife always wanted to visit and perhaps some rest from his heartbreak. Unfortunately, he inadvertently brings with him a young boy named Russell, who desperately needs to do something for this crotchety old man to earn the rank of Senior Explorer with the Wilderness Explorers.
The 96-minute film manages to pack a number of very memorable animated characters into the short time, including a dopily devoted dog named Dug, an exotic bird named Beta and an obsessed and evil explorer Charles Muntz (voiced by the indefatigable actor Christopher Plummer). The movie turns out to be fun, endearing, comedic and heartfelt. Unlike WALL-E, it goes for a more animated look than the pervasive realistic look that characterized much of WALL-E.
In short, this is a perfect memorable summer movie for the whole family but will probably not stick in your minds quite as well as some of Pixar’s bigger hits like Shrek and WALL-E. Nevertheless, it’s a shooting star. 3.3 on my 4.0 scale. Good work, Pixar.
I have a connection with this film too, in that my sister Mary recommended it to me, so I added it to my Netflix queue. Garden State reminded me in spots of Dazed and Confused, as it is a sort of coming of age movie, in this case a coming of age movie for today’s twenty-somethings, particularly the subset who spent their childhood on Ritalin or other mood altering drugs. Actually, Garden State is much better than Dazed and Confused, which is a coming of age movie for those born in the late 1950s like me. Dazed and Confused, while it was not terribly memorable at least had dead on note of authenticity.
Garden State focuses on Andrew Largeman, who is played by Zack Braff, who also wrote and directed the film. This is exactly the sort of movie I imagined myself writing and directing someday when I had such pretensions. In a way, I am jealous of Braff, who here plays a 26-year-old Hollywood actor who returns to New Jersey due to the passing of his paraplegic mother. As we eventually learn, Andrew was responsible for his mother’s paralysis when at age nine he impulsively pushed her. His father, a psychiatrist (played by Ian Holm) has kept him doped up since then. Sent away to boarding school at age sixteen, he became disconnected from his classmates and his family, with his father writing prescriptions long distance from New Jersey. For more than ten years, Andrew has existed in a medicated haze.
When he comes home to bury his mother, he finds himself bereft of tears, which is due to the many medications he is on. He does however quickly run into old classmates, and he hardly has a chance to sit still before he is being invited to parties. One of his classmates is a gravedigger, who supplements his salary by taking jewelry off the dead before burying them. Another is a cop. Another works in a local hardware store. For the most part, they haven’t grown up and are still living at home, still smoking weed and still making out with high school aged women. Like Andrew, they too have spent the last ten years existing rather than maturing.
A funny thing happens in New Jersey. In his haste to get home for his mother’s funeral, Andrew leaves the drugs back in L.A. Once back in New Jersey the drugs slowly wear off. Rather than spending his life feeling like he is encased in fluffy pillows, he begins to feel again. He is aided by a transformative relationship with a girl he meets at a neurologist’s office named Sam (Natalie Portman), who is every bit as strange as he is but most importantly helps him feel and learn how to love someone too.
If tempted to walk out of the movie, don’t, because the movie builds toward a mild but moving crescendo that at times approaches brilliance, such as watching the transformation unfold between Andrew and Sam to the tune of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York”. It’s brilliant stuff and this is an impressive (albeit low budget) movie from a young actor and director. Rent it.
3.4 on my 4.0 scale.