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A heartfelt film within a film in 'Up'

The filmmakers' decision to include a four-minute montage tracing the back story of Carl Fredricksen and his wife was a bold stroke that enriched the entire movie.

June 07, 2009|John Horn

It's among the most memorable -- and moving -- sequences in Pixar's new animated movie "Up": a four-minute, dialogue-free montage early in the film that traces the entire relationship between Carl Fredricksen and his wife, Ellie.

In encapsulating the couple's life together, the flashback sequence -- which Times film critic Kenneth Turan called "a small gem that will stay with you for a lifetime" -- includes a few issues rarely raised in a movie aimed at families, including a miscarriage, the failing health of the elderly, even death and bereavement.

"It's one of the things I am most proud of in the film," says "Up" director Pete Docter.

Docter and his "Up" collaborators always wanted to include the couple's back story. The sequence needed to answer critical narrative questions: Why would Carl Fredricksen, the grumpy old man voiced by actor Ed Asner, attach balloons to his house and float away if he might be leaving children behind? Why had the couple never made it to Paradise Falls? What was so critical about the homemade badge Carl pins on the Junior Wilderness Explorer, Russell? What little pleasures might constitute life's biggest moments?

In its earliest iteration, the montage looked as if it would last 20 minutes.

"You start with a ton of stuff and you pare down," Doc- ter says. "And we took out everything that wasn't essential."

The decision to present the scene without the characters' talking came a bit later (The montage does include an orchestral score by composer Michael Giacchino).

In researching the film's story, Docter, co-director and co-screenwriter Bob Peterson and producer Jonas Rivera looked at a number of Super-8 film reels from family archives and often found that the silent images were more powerful because of what wasn't said.

"We're always looking in animation to do things without dialogue, to turn the sound off and still know what's going on," Peterson says.

Adds Docter: "It kind of comes to life in your own head more. For a long time, we had sound effects throughout the whole sequence, to sell certain things like the jars breaking and the tire popping. And in the final mix, we just took them all out and I think it works even better.

If you watch the scene closely, you also will notice that the color palette shifts to reflect the nature of Carl and Ellie's relationship. When they are young, the shades are sepia-toned, suggesting something from the 1930s. In the prime of their lives, the colors are richer -- vibrant greens and blues. "Hopefully it's not something the audience is even conscious of," Docter says.

The filmmakers wrestled with removing Ellie's miscarriage but felt the scene -- and the rest of the movie -- suffered without it.

"It's a pretty strong thing to see," Peterson says. "And we tried taking it out. But it didn't feel as textured."

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john.horn@latimes.com

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