On “Up” and high art

By , 5 March 2010 7:11 pm

The other weekend we managed to watch two DVDs at home. On the Friday night we went grand opera – very grand in this case – Puccini’s last work Turandot, which has a lot more going for it than the great football-fest aria Nessun dorma. It was pretty much a star-studded cast with Placido Domingo on fine form and the lavish sets by Zefirelli depicting the brutal China of the emperors.

Saturday night was meant to be the ridiculous rather than the sublime; the Pixar/Disney film Up which we had somehow missed at the cinema. Yet it didn’t turn out to be quite as ridiculous as I had expected. If you haven’t seen the film it’s well worth seeing for the first 10 minutes which seem to inhabit a different world from the humorous, action-packed sequence that follows. Without giving too much of the plot away, this first section is a muted (there is almost no dialogue) yet astonishingly tightly drawn account of a married life where, let’s say, not everything works out.

Yet somehow, despite – or because of – the economy of words it is a remarkably moving portrayal of ordinary life as we all too often experience it. If it doesn’t bring you close to tears you may want to check your pulse. A glance at some of the reviews suggest that my reaction is not untypical: several reviewers suggest that this opening section may be the finest piece of ‘cartoon work’ (one feels the word cartoon does it injustice) ever created and there are several comments of vast snufflings and sobs in cinemas. The rest of the film is fine if you don’t mind talking dogs and the like but it really cannot live up to its awesome beginning.

Now the point is that I found this section of Up a far more moving and emotionally challenging piece of work than Turandot. If we take it that one of the definitions of art is ‘a created work that moves us’ then this scant 10 minutes of Up triumphs over one of the great masterpieces of Italian opera.

From this I draw a few tentative conclusions which may be worth considering.

  • Great art can be achieved in the most improbable of media. Wonders can be worked with the humble cartoon.
  • Great art can be achieved with a minimum of means. You don’t need a full orchestra, fine singers and 2½ hours duration to achieve a great effect.
  • The ordinary can sometimes be more moving than the extraordinary.

All in all I find it pretty encouraging; here as elsewhere, the little can sometimes beat the large.

One Response to “On “Up” and high art”

  1. Simon says:

    We enjoyed it too. You might like to check out our pastor’s post on it: http://fwiwblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/up.html

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