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August 9, 2009

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Up-lifting joy in sweet saga

YES, we've seen "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," some of the major cinema offerings this summer with remarkable box-office takings. And if we wonder is there more to come, the answer is absolutely "yep!"

"Up," the latest 3-D animated feature from the classy computer-animation studio Pixar, whose early works include "Toy Story" (1995), "Finding Nemo" (2003) and "WALL-E" (2008), is popping into the city's major cinema houses this week -- three months after its world premiere opening at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

Proudly served as the opening film for one of the world's most intellectual and auteur-orientated film festivals -- the first time for an animated feature in Cannes' 63-year history -- "Up" has every reason to start a festival in a time of world crisis with a lighthearted, engrossing and moving plot that leaves the audience in tears of joy.

The animated action-adventure flick tells the story of an old grouch who fulfills his childhood dream through a perilous journey with a group of friends.

As a boy, Carl Fredrickson (voiced by Edward Asner who greatly humanizes the character) meets an adventurous girl named Ellie, who always dreams of going to a lost land called "Paradise Falls" in Peru, South America.

Some 70 years later and after Ellie has died, Carl still remembers the promise he once made to his wife.

So the 78-year-old sets out to realize his lifelong dream by tying thousands of balloons to his home to fly away to the Peruvian wilderness.

Right after lifting off, however, Carl learns that he isn't alone on his journey -- an eight-year-old boy named Russell (voiced by greenhorn Jordan Nagai) trying to get an "assisting the elderly" badge from Carl has inadvertently become a stowaway on the trip.

So together, they embark on an amazing adventure where they encounter talking dogs, a mythical singing bird and of course, an evil, crazed villain. And the finale is, with many twists and suspense, quite hilarious and sweet.

Though the film will certainly impress most children with its light storyline, witty dialogue and high-energy visuals, "Up" also manages to resonate emotionally for grown-ups with some positive themes of self-discovery and self-fulfillment.

Pete Docter and Bob Peterson, who co-wrote and directed the film largely based on a visual image of a sad old man holding a colorful balloon -- often a symbol of escape from reality -- help to inject life force into the central characters with real emotions against a surreal, fable-like set.

The film is also a major tribute to the highly sophisticated development of 3-D technology over the past decade. The dazzling, aesthetical visuals generated by the Pixar effects wizards highlight the most important feature of an animated creature -- the liveliness of its eyes rather than the pixels of its fur.

"Up," a Pixar Animation Studios production, runs for 96 minutes and is rated PG for some peril and action. It's currently screened in English with Chinese subtitles and earns three and half stars out of five.


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