In the week or so since seeing Up, I've heard about a dozen people refer to it in conversation as "that Pixar movie", which, of course, it is. But it's also a Disney movie, officially, as all Pixar movies have been since Cars. There is a long and tumultuous relationship between Disney and Pixar, and if you don't know about it I'm not going to take the time to fill you in now, but I do urge you to track down and watch the excellent documentary The Pixar Story as soon as possible. The important point here is that "Disney-Pixar" is the agreed upon branding at this time, but "Pixar" is all that seems to matter - and all we should expect to matter from this point on.
Like millions of people, I grew up watching Disney movies. In fact the very first memory I have of seeing a movie in a theater is the rerelease of the classic Pinocchio in 1984, when I must have been three going on four years old. This was followed up over the next 10 years of my childhood by surely hundreds of viewings of Disney movies, culminating with what remains arguably my favorite (musically): Aladdin. Hours upon hours of my young life must have been spent watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia (also in its theatrical rerelease), Bambi, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, 101 Dalmatians, Robin Hood, The Fox and the Hound, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, and The Lion King, to name most of the popular animated ones. Additionally, I have fond memories of these live-action Disney movies: Mary Poppins, The Love Bug, Herbie Rides Again, Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Herbie Goes Bananas, Never Cry Wolf, Return to Oz, Flight of the Navigator, The Mighty Ducks, and Cool Runnings. All of these were produced and/or distributed by Disney, and they were cherished entertainment for the kids of my generation (note that we never saw these propagandic shorts) .
Then two things happened: 1.) I grew older, and 2.) Disney began a slow decline in both the quantity and quality of their original films, to the present state where the brand is almost meaningless. At least it's meaninglesst in the semi-tangible way that I once knew it: imaginative, original, durable, wholesome entertainment for children.
To be honest, these days I have to throw up my hands when thinking about what constitutes a Disney movie. The Princess Diaries? The Rookie? Remakes of both Freaky Friday and The Parent Trap? Pirates of the Caribbean? National Treasure? Howl's Moving Castle? Miracle? Glory Road? High School Musical? Invincible? The movies in The Chronicles of Narnia series? Hannah Montana? Meet the Robinsons? College Road Trip? Though I'm not making any judgment on the quality of these films (a few of them are even good), I have trouble reconciling them with the Disney movies of my childhood. They are still G- and PG-rated films made for families, but I fear the "Disney"-ness as I knew it is lacking from them, even if I can't exactly describe what that means. Am I alone here, or am I just missing the mark because I'm no longer the target demographic?
Either way, you could be forgiven for not realizing some of those were actually Disney movies. But then, without referencing an official list (from a tremendously helpful website) you might also not realize that Disney went from releasing one movie per year up until the early 1980's, then a few movies per year up until the early 1990's, to more than a dozen a year by the 2000's (exactly 12 last year, eight so far in 2009). Therein lies the rub: Disney grew too large in the last two decades, and in the process it diluted its own unique identity.
I realize I'm not breaking any news here to people who have been paying attention, and especially to those who know about the Pixar situation. But for whatever reason it wasn't until hearing so many people call Up "that Pixar movie" that the decline of Disney really hit home (even though the same phenomenon occurred with Wall-E last year). It's hard to complain when Pixar (excuse me, Disney-Pixar) continues to deliver such dazzlingly impressive films, yet a part of me fears that after this Christmas's The Princess and the Frog, Disney really will fall into a deep sleep, never to be woken again. Pixar is the Princess, and Disney is the Frog, and when lost in the memories of my childhood, well, I find that fact a little saddening.
Incidentally, instead of reviewing the dreamy magnificence of Up (which I would now like to call La maison en petits ballons), I'll simply share my surprise that nobody else was reminded of La maison en petits cubes, the earth-shattering, mind-blowing, Oscar-winning animated short by Kunio Kato, he of "Domi arigato, Mr. Roboto" acceptance speech fame. Now, I realize 99% of people who have seen Up have not seen the short, but even those who have seen La maison apparently haven't noticed its similarity to the simultaneously intoxicating and heartbreaking montage of Carl and Ellie's marriage. Considering the set-up of the main character, the melancholic piano score, and even the use of a tree as a romantic rendezvous point, I'm baffled. (And it should go without saying that I'm not accusing one of copying the other; both obviously took years to develop.)
And so I leave it up to you now. When I reviewed the 2009 Oscar Animated Shorts I embedded this short and I'm not sure who was able to see it before it was taken down. I have once again found it but can not guarantee it will be around for long. I can imagine Kunio Kato is not happy about his film continuing to pop up online, but I consider the man a talented genius and I only hope that he can forgive my enthusiasm in showing his work to as many people as possible. Before or after your next viewing of Up (or, La maison en petits ballons), take twelve minutes in a quiet place and enjoy La maison en petits cubes (may take a moment to load):