I can say that Russell is the most believable kid I've ever seen in a movie. From his reason for wanting the last necessary Wilderness Explorer badge, to his complaints about how his knee hurt and how he had to go to the bathroom, Russell was a prepubescent kid. The excitability, the lack of precociousness, the poking Carl in the face when he thought Carl might be dead - all were spot on.
I can say that the twenty minute montage of Carl and Ellie's life together was perhaps the best and most moving piece of animation I have ever seen. It in and of itself could have been a Pixar short, though a rather somber one.
I can say that Carl's reactions throughout the film, from bonking that guy on the head to his obsession with his mailbox to talking to his house as if Ellie were still in it to kissing Ellie's picture, were achingly, heartbreakingly realistic.
I can say that Dug the Dog was an awesome addition to the movie.
I can say that I would watch this movie perhaps more than any other Disney or Pixar film - if it weren't for Dory's "I wish I could speak whale" moment in Finding Nemo.
And yet. And yet there is the "girl problem". I've posted about this before, after WALL•E came out. But Up continues to highlight the problems I've had with Pixar films - and in ways, it goes farther toward making it worse, to making it less female-friendly.
Like, Ellie gets a couple of lines in the beginning of the film when she's a kid, and then is silenced by the (again, thoroughly beautiful and moving) 20 minute montage, a montage that ends with her death. Young Ellie, for all of her 5 minutes on screen, is the only actual speaking role a main female character, partially because there is only one other main female character. And that's a bird. Named Kevin. I've probably posted before about my dislike of boys' names for girls in movies and television shows. Which I was fine with for quite a while. My antipathy for that particular practice didn't develop until I heard Bryan Fuller talk about how giving girls boys' names made them easier for him to write, that it was hard for him to write a 'girl' character. Then I had a bit of a lightbulb moment.
The lightbulb moment is this: "characters" are easy to write. "Girl characters" are not. A film about someone bringing his house to Paradise Falls and having a young stowaway who only wants his Wilderness badge is a film the Pixar people can write. A film where a girl does the same thing is not.
In many of the other blog posts about gender issues in Pixar films floating around the feminist ether, some commenter inevitably makes the point that Pixar isn't the only film studio almost exclusively living in Boysville. And that's true, but that (a) doesn't really absolve Pixar, and (b) only demonstrates exactly how prevalent this problem really is - which just reinforces the point that this is a bad and deserves to be addressed. However, the reason I'm picking on Pixar is because the films they make are so imaginative, so talented, so brilliant, so emotionally resonant, that it is all the more disappointing when they either can't or won't write a film with a main character who is a woman - and who isn't a princess. Pixar movies about boys can be chef-rats and toys and superheroes and fish and cars and old men. Pixar movies about girls - the one Pixar movie in the works about a girl - is about a princess. The juxtaposition the complex imaginings of the Pixar oeuvre with the seeming inability to imagine where women and girls fit as individual characters within that oeuvre is profoundly depressing. It is depressing because I believe if ever there was a studio that has the ability to create a universal story with a female protagonist, Pixar is that studio. It is depressing because these are children's films that continually privilege boys, making them the centers of each individual universe, and thus reinforce the idea of Male as default and Female as the other. It reinforces the idea of Woman being the Second Sex.
The Mad Typist has a run down of Pixar films and grades them accordingly in terms of how the women are portrayed, and FilthyGrandeur has another run down of the Pixar dilemma. And again, the problem isn't the films individually. It is incredibly easy to defend the decision to make a film about Flick, or Buzz and Woody, or Bob Parr, or Marlin and Nemo, or Carl and Russell, or Lightening McQueen, or Remy, or Sulley and Mike, or WALL•E. Each individual movie is great. Each individual movie can be rationalized. It is when all of the movies are taken as a group that the issue emerges. Out of the 10 movies that have been released, not one of them features a female protagonist. If we add the 3 movies in some form of production, the average goes to 1 out of 13 movies features a female protagonist. Meanwhile, one is about a newt named "Newt", which just goes further to reinforce that "male as default" thing.
Pixar, because of the power the studio commands, because of the audience their films attract (like, young ones), because of the fact that women make up more than 1/13 of the world population, need to engage in some serious corrective measures. Because as much as I love Pixar, it cuts to consistently see my gender underrepresented or outright erased from the films I pay to see. It hurts to have my gender consistently portrayed as "love interest" or "sidekick" - or both in one character. And to be perfectly frank, it's kind of pissing me off that after the wondrous ingenuity of rats who want to cook and toys who are alive (in a noncreepy way) and old men dealing with grief and life's disappointments, girls once again get the princess crap. As if "Princess" is an underrepresented genre of film for girls. As if "Princess" isn't a problematic description for little girls, if for no other reason than most little girls won't ever be one - because "princess" is something one is and not something one can work at becoming. As Monique Fields said regarding Disney's The Princess and the Frog,
Some little girls are telling anyone who will listen that they want to be princesses when they grow up. If nothing else, I expect a more ambitious and attainable goal from children who haven’t yet learned to read or write.
I have faith in Pixar. I have the expectation that I'll be going to see Pixar films in the theater much more frequently than I will see any other type of movie. I anticipate that, like Linda Holmes, I will adore The Bear and the Bow. But as much as I want Pixar to recognize that there are girls in the world and we're worth their attention, I'd also really love it if they recognized that shorthand for "girl" isn't "princess". You'd think they would have gotten that memo, after making Ellie and EVE and Violet and Dory. But apparently, they haven't yet.