Step-Up 3 (2010)
To enjoy musicals you have step up willingly into a compromised role as viewer. You must be willing to believe for a couple of hours that it’s normal to break into inconspicuously-orchestrated song as a means of expression, be it exuberant or despairing. Step-Up 3 is in every way a musical without singing. The story is preposterous, the acting is histrionic, and life effecting conflicts are resolved mutually by organized dance-offs. In between the silliness, is some really amazing dance talent. The “whys” of the film are endless: why are all the lead characters white and Jewish kids while the secondary cast is mostly made up of better dancing minorities? Why isn’t it considered a suspicious cult or maybe Communist that a bunch of teenagers live together in nightclub without any blemish of alcohol, drugs, arguments or sex? Why would an engineering student enroll at NYU while an aspiring film student needs to leave New York? Again, here I’m patschkieing around. Step-Up 3 is 3D, it’s fun, and the dancing is fantastic. That’s about all there is to say, but it’s also probably all there is to know.
First of all, I don’t care for cartoon movies. To me cartoons are great at about 6 minutes running time and when the twist ending is that Coyote’s malfunctioning steam roller is revealed to be a product of the Road-Runner Steam Roller Company of Flagstaff, AZ. That’s all the sophistication I expect. But, I don’t see many cartoon features. I remember liking Beauty and the Beast, but it was really just an animated drag show. Toy Story? Shreck? I’d rather be sentenced to life imprisonment on Its A Small World at Disneyland than sit through either again. Second, I’ve reached a stage in life where I just don’t want to be confronted with growing old and dying. And I’d rather be sentenced to an eternity of low impact aerobic classes than identify with a widower. Still I’d be disingenuous to say I disliked or even was disinterested in the animated feature Up.
An elderly widower delivers his deceased wife’s lifelong wish to live above a beautiful waterfall in Peru. He embarks on a plan to fly their entire house to South America under hundreds of helium balloons. Along the way the widower takes on responsibility for a misfit gang of child and animal sidekicks who help to restore his desire for adventure . What’s missing here are the cloying Tim Rice songs, virginal princesses, out-of-period pop culture references, and distracting celebrity voiceovers. Thank God for that.
There is a lot of fable formula in the story too, but what I liked about Up is discovering myself buying into both the post-modern and fantasy elements. In Up world children can be distant from a divorced parent but also dogs can talk. I’ve heard critics praise Up for its opening act in particular, a kind of pantomime of the wife’s joyful life and peaceful death in a manner that is unique, mature, and genuinely emotional. I understand why people love that sequence but I could have done without. It just depressed me. I’m sure it’s what distinguished Up for people as material worthy of a best picture Oscar nominee. I personally would prefer the whole thing cut down to under 6 minutes and blissful assurance that the cartoon is over when a pig says da-dats folks.