We had been prepared to go all Armond White on Pixar’s latest animated opus, Up, but a funny thing happened on the way to Haterville: We loved it! Easily the best Pixar movie since The Incredibles, Pete Doctor’s film, about a widower who floats his house to South America using hundreds of balloons, takes the best parts of the studio’s catalog and mashes them together to reach a result of near perfection. Up is touching without ever succumbing to treacly sentimentality and contains an infectious streak of silliness (talking dogs!) while being utterly mature. At the risk of sounding like one of those film critics prone to saying things like “this isn’t just a great animated movie, but a great movie,” Up isn’t just a great animated movie, but a great movie.
However! The much ballyhooed “Real 3-D?” Totally unnecessary! Up is the first film we’ve seen in 3-D since it became the flavor of the month, and we couldn’t have been more disappointed in the effort. There is the matter of the actual hardware being totally lame—the plastic glasses seem more suited to a bar mitzvah than a movie theater—but, more important, we just found the whole experience completely unpleasant. The draw of any Pixar film is the lush digital animation, and with Up it should be no different: the crisp blue sky and brightly colored balloons are a veritable feast for the eyes. But we only know that’s the case from watching the trailer in HD, since those lovely static images of the floating house were muted as we watched the film through blurry plastic lenses. Worse, the presence of 3-D gave the film no added aesthetic value—Mr. Doctor (thankfully) eschewed conventional gimmicks, like objects flying into the audience, and concentrated instead on depth of the viewing plane. While it was fun to see a Grand Canyon-like valley in 3-D, would Up have been any worse if that image was just normal?
Of course, we understand why film companies are ready to fully embrace this technology: In the end, the economics of 3-D are too good to pass, well, up. Thanks to more expensive ticket prices, Up grossed $35 million of its $68.2 million opening weekend from 3-D theaters alone. Plus, by producing movies in 3-D, online pirating becomes a bit harder—unless the pirates want to sell glasses as well. Still, we’re not quite sure 3-D is so good for the artistic side of the filmmaking ledger. Call us old-fashioned, but we prefer our movies to be like maps of the world, pre-1492: Totally flat.