Disney has a grand tradition of death, and this isn’t the first time I’ve written about it, but what makes Up more special than Bambi, or even The Lion King, is how carefully it follows the grieving process. Everyone focuses on the silent montage at the start, which compresses a couple’s entire life together into four wordless minutes. It’s as fine a piece of cinema as you’ll ever see, and it’s reputation is well earned. But as in life, it’s not the death itself that’s really important – it’s what comes after. And after, Up picks up with Carl, an old man, living alone. The brilliance of that montage is in the way it echoes throughout, and as Carl navigates his house, you begin to notice the hooks that have been set in your heart – the mailbox, the bottle-lid badge, the chairs – and that will be tugged mercilessly throughout. In my experience that’s more or less how it happens in life, just a little messier. You encounter innocuous little cues with rough edges that catch in your chest. I admire the ruthless efficiency with which Up can bring me to my knees: a single shot of an inanimate object, a couple of notes of Giacchino’s score. But from what I’ve said so far, it doesn’t sound very fun, does it? What makes me love Up is the contrast. After all, there aren’t many in-depth examinations of the grieving process that can also shift thousands of stuffed toys, are there? The film only wallows in this loneliness for a short time, before Carl escapes, into the sky, and towards Paradise Falls. Introducing the rest of Carl’s party – Russell the persistent ‘Wilderness Explorer’ boy scout, Kevin the giant bird, Dug the talking dog – Up turns into something as simple and likeable as any Pixar film. But it doesn’t abandon that emotional core. All the conflicts are caught up in one another – Carl’s craving for adventure, as a younger man, resurfaces after he can’t have children; Russell’s largely absent father isn’t there to do his Wilderness Explorer activities with him; Kevin, the only character to have a full family, is separated from them. (Incidentally, I think you could make an argument for the characters representing Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, particularly the midlife crisis of generativity vs stagnation.) And, like all the best baddies, Charles Muntz is presents Carl from a different perspective – his airship is a much more literal museum, full of the bones of mythical creatures he hunted, as Carl’s floating house, but both are just as preoccupied with the past and with death. And of course, the film never shies away from lingering, for just one moment, on one of those mementoes. Ultimately, though, life goes on, and all the grief sits just underneath the surface, the engine which drives all the thrilling adventure stuff. The world doesn’t suddenly turn black, beauty and humour still exist, and that allows Dug to exist – thank God – and Dug, in turn, allows Up to work. There aren’t many visual metaphors stronger than that house rising into Sega-blue skies, tugged upwards by a multi-coloured cloud of balloons. There are few more crushing than the half-burned house, heavier than the remains of balloons can carry, scraping along the rough earth as Carl drags it, alone, before grinding to a halt. Up follows the same emotional waveform as most Pixar films, with the hero starting low, rising steadily to a high, then being brought down by the consequences of that rise, only to get over what brought them low in the first place and rise triumphantly. Of course, that also describes most human experience, including grieving for a loved one. I’ve made a big deal in the past about how the shape of Up could be emotionally educational, the implication being, for children. I’m going to come up front and say what I really mean is, for me. A while back, I lost my Nan; she was a wonderful and vital woman, and… frankly I lack the vocabulary to talk about this kind of stuff; I haven’t had to deal with death, really, since I was young. I suspect I’m not good at it. Catharsis is one of art’s greatest virtues; Up provides a safe way to experience, and re-experience, difficult emotions in a controlled environment. It gave me a framework for understanding, and a context to place it in. Essentially, Up takes everything that’s bundled up in grief, and turns it into a story. I’m used to stories.
I had a list of dreams for 2011 that I made in the early months of this year. Amongst them were making some money whilst dressed in my bunny onesie, and writing for the Escapist, a games-orientated website showing the breadth and quality that games writing can, and should, consist of… So that’s two birds with one stone, then. Disney-Colo(u)red Death is me taking a look at Bambi, The Lion King and Up and their tear-the-still-beating-heart-from-your-chest moments, and then applying any patterns I spot to the world of videogames. The title is theirs, not mine (which were all as long and unwieldy as emo album track titles), and much better for it. It’s also my first ever piece of professional journalism. As first times go, it could be a lot, lot worse.
As I might’ve mentioned, oh, two or three hundred times by now, it’s basically the end of 2009/the decade/time. To celebrate, some lists of Good Things, and, where the inspiration strikes me, a bit of explanation. Top 5 Albums of 2009#5 Horrors – Primary Colours(People are talking about this as, yay, Horros reinvent themselves as good. But I actually quite like Horrors mk.1. Still haven’t given this the time it deserves, but enough to recognise, if I do give it what it deserves, it will be probably one of the most long-lasting likes on here. So ludicrously tasty and thick sounding: thanks new sound system!)#4 Karen O – Where The Wild Things Are(Still a little unsure about the film- more on that later – and haven’t listened to this since seeing it. Beautiful, but probably the most likely record to get kicked off the list, retrospectively. Realise now I never linked to my Redbrick review.)#3 Emmy the Great – First Love(This year’s largest sufferer of ‘love-the-band-but-I’ve-heard-the-songs-enough-by-the-time-the-album-comes-out’ syndrome. Will, no doubt, rediscover at some point, like I did this year with Dan Le Sac/Scroobius Pip’s Angles.)#2 Patrick Wolf – The Bachelor(I’m probably wrong but, my favourite Wolf. It is, as I learnt this summer, great runnning material, really determined stuff; though, thanks to my limited stamina I’m not that familiar past the first half an hour.)#1 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz(I’ll write something huge on this at some point, no doubt. YYYs have been by far my biggest band this year- in both gig and album, but I haven’t had a proper Think about them since 2007ish.)Top 5 Games of 2009 #5 Wii Sports Resort(Screw you, Borderlands! A more pop choice, for the sheer family-uniting powers it has brought to bear this holiday. And I’m still interested in exploring its single player modes…)#4 Batman: Arkham Asylum(Was tight. Did tights right.)#3 Time Gentlemen Please(For making me laugh more than anything else this year. A perfect year would’ve provided me with Brutal Legend, to make a pure comedy Top 5; drop Batman and everything on here has provided more laughs than your average Apatow film, in one way or another. Oh well, no year is perfect, right?)#2 Red Faction: Guerilla(Second-biggest laughs provider. A game about revolutionary freedom-fighters/terrorists blowing up builds not funny? Wrong.)#1 Spelunky(This one has definitely got more coming. Not that there has been a lack of writing already. Haven’t touched it much since Autumn, but it’s left its mark. No doubt I’ll buy the upcoming 360 version too.) Top 5 Films of 2009#5 Let The Right One In(Beautiful, creepy, Swedish. Still annoyed I missed this in the cinema, but it’s possibly the film that’s held my mind for the longest#4 Inglourious Basterds(Provided I’m actually right about it. Recently found Tarantino’s introductory speech for it, and am a bit concerned about my reading. Although, death of the author and all that, does it really matter?*)#3 The Wrestler #2 Milk(As my girlfriend put it last night: “Why are all the films you like the ones that make me cry?”)#1 Up(More than any other, this is the one that made me realise how are hard, and rubbish, lists are. I forgot this until a quick Google. It’s the only film I’ve seen twice this year, and it genuinely held up. I think pretty much everything has been said by now- it’s surprisingly heartbreaking at the start, loses it a bit here and there, but still has a lot of the year’s best moments. Even the action-hero bit at the end doesn’t feel forced, and genuinely worked. Wouldn’t bother with 3D though.) This one was, surprisingly, the hardest to cut down. So much extra stuff that I really loved this year- I guess it’s easier to give yourself to something once. Pending a second viewing, Where The Wild Things Are might have a shot at knocking, I dunno, Inglourious Basterds off the list.All in all, it hasn’t been a year where I’ve cared much for the contemporary. I do love the YYYs album, but haven’t visited it as much as I would’ve had it come out in, say, 2006. And I have, as usual, struggled to keep up with the cinema, while discovering stuff like the Coens’ back catalogue. Probably played more TF2 than any other (non-Spelunky) game this year. In the case of gaming, money’s probably an issue. One free game, one that cost me £1.99, two I had on rental and a Christmas present. Hey, I started the Moneyless Gamer for a reason. Musically, new was even harder than contemporary. My favourite albums are almost all by bands I already knew and liked before. Even though, when I’ve got my Music Editor hat on, we get a constant stream of new into our inbox, and people are raving about this and that, I’m falling behind. Looking at Top Album lists for inspiration, I feel passed-by. Such band names! Crystal Stilts? Neon Indian? They sound like futuristic versions of bands I like. Can these really have come out without my noticing?. And bands I remember hearing about a few years back, when I couldn’t keep my nose out of the NME/blogs. Wild Beasts. Future of the Left. Bands I’ve tried with, and nothing’s happened. Bands I like who I didn’t even know had new stuff out. Sonic Youth. Gallows. Perhaps I’m just getting old.