Emotion, laughs take press 'Up' and away

Disney/Pixar film gets Cannes under way Wednesday

CANNES -- It was as if the Festival de Cannes had collectively inhaled a little of the helium in those thousands of balloons that lift aloft an entire house in the animated movie "Up." Pixar's 10th movie not only served as the opening-night film for the 62nd edition of the venerable fest Wednesday, it also left everyone who touched it just a little bit giddy.

Introducing the film to the press, festival director Thierry Fremaux took a moment to snap a personal photograph of the assembled journos once they all adorned their 3-D glasses, capturing a moment that was at once historic and a little geeky.

A few hours later, at the Carlton Pier, the filmmakers were joined by French superstar Charles Aznavour, who lends his voice in the dubbed French version of the movie, in which he plays Carl, the 78-year-old man who sets off on the adventure of a lifetime by hitching his house to thousands of helium balloons.

Acting as a bit of ringmaster, John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Disney and Pixar, walked the group through their paces -- "Are we good for you, guys?" Lasseter asked the furiously clicking photogs -- while Disney chairman Dick Cook looked on.

"This is obviously something very, very special," Cook said. "For Disney/Pixar to have an opening-night film at the Cannes Film Festival is unprecedented for us, a real honor, a real thrill."

At the filmmakers' news conference following the first screening, Lasseter testified, "To have our movie 'Up' open the Cannes Film Festival is one of the greatest things to happen to us in our careers. You have to understand what this festival means to a filmmaker -- it is one of the most prestigious festivals in the world. To have your movie actually open it is really, really exciting. I think the thing I'm looking to the most is seeing that great image of all these people tonight in their tuxedoes, bow ties, gowns, wearing 3-D glasses."

While most of the assembled press lavished praise on the filmmakers in return, one questioner, a German journalist, tried to wade into political waters, suggesting that the movie, in which an old man joins forces with a young Wilderness Explorer scout, was somehow a metaphor for a new America shedding its old bellicose ways.

"If you see that in the movie, help yourself," director Pete Docter said. "We're basically not ever trying to put any large table-thumping, bible-stomping message across. We're just trying to entertain people. We hope that there's something substantive behind that, whether the movies are about fish or monsters, there's something relatable, that we see in own lives. But our primary objective is to see that the audience has a good time."

Lasseter's underscored the importance of the film's emotional underpinnings. "What is important for me, always, is the heart of a story. ... Walt Disney always said for every laugh there should be a tear. When I heard the idea for this (film), I knew it was going to be tuned into emotion. I know we can make a movie funny. I know we can make it beautiful. But it is that heart that is a challenging thing."

Paying tribute to Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, Lasseter said, "I think Miyazaki is in all of the Pixar films. His films are always focused on the characters and stories. They are so inventive. One of the things he does is celebrate the quiet moments in a film. ... That's been a huge inspiration for all of us. All of our films, especially 'Up,' have that feeling of taking time to celebrate the quiet moment."

Both Docter and Lasseter endorsed 3-D -- when used in the service of emotion and story.

"3-D is like any new technological innovation -- this is something John taught me when I first started -- it's like a fun toy," Docter said. "As soon as someone gives us something, we say, oh, boy, what does it do? Then you start messing around with it, and then you start to realize how you can use it for storytelling. In this case, we really tried to use depth in the same way we used color and cinematography and that's to further the emotion of a scene."

"I think 3-D is a fantastic device that helps get the audience into the story that much more," Lasseter said. "As Pete has said, 'We've always made our films in 3-D, we've just shown them in 2-D'."

At the same time -- even while committing Disney and Pixar to turning out more 3-D movies -- Lasseter said he was excited that Disney is returning to traditional, hand-drawn animation with "The Princess and the Frog," which will be released later this year.

"2-D animation stopped being made by the studios," he said. "They kept saying audiences don't want to watch 2-D animation any more. The reality is that audiences don't want to watch bad movies. 2-D animation became the scapegoat for bad storytelling."