Short of the Week

This Way Up

An inventive digital animation about a father and son mortician who go to Hell and back (literally) to deliver a casket. 2008 Oscar nominee.

This digital animation about a father and son mortician who go to Hell and back (literally) to deliver a casket had me conflicted. For every unique moment, there’s another that’s been pulled right off the cliché shelf. Just as the story piques my interest, it takes a turn down a yawnable direction. And when you get right down to it, the characters just aren’t that likable (other than the dead lady in the casket). I was surprised to learn This Way Up had stolen audience favorite awards at some top animation festivals (Ottawa and Palm Springs).

The visual style, though beautiful at times, is also rather clunky. There are times when movements seem awkward and I’m pulled out of the not-so-carefully constructed world of the film. I was even more disappointed after learning the film was created by the impressive Smith & Foulkes of Nexus Productions who also created the well-loved story within a story closing credits of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Overall, due to a lack of an engaging story, consistency and plain outright entertainment value, This Way Up leaves plenty more to be desired. I see this film as a great story pitch that was rushed to production.

Andrew makes no attempt to hide his love for the magic art of animation. He appreciates compelling visuals but never forgets that in this modern age, a strong story always reigns supreme. You can see his work at or his latest film The Thomas Beale Cipher.
  • Notluke

    Two more things that probably warrant mentioning:

    1) The film got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short yesterday. (And although I, like you, was rather underwhelmed by it, I still consider it actually the most deserving of the nominees, or at least of the four I had seen. The Academy chose poorly this year.)

    2) For those without an American iTunes account, the film is supposed to be back on the BBC site after Sundance ends:

  • Sondhi

    Yeah I have to agree with the review too, it had some great things going on, but it didn’t seem visually coherent.

    Thanks Notluke for the link, the BBC Film Network definitely rocks. You think this is the best of the nominees though? Presto! is very good, though Pixar’s greatness is getting boring now, and I was not prepared to like Lavatory/Lovestory since I’m not a fan of Bronzit, but it really surprised me.

    Plus, it’s the one I haven’t seen, but I have to assume Maison en Petit Cubes has to be the fave after winning Annecy.

  • Notluke

    Yeah, Cubes is the one I haven’t seen as well. Shame the full version isn’t posted online, as it looks most interesting, regardless of the Annecy trophy.

    I love most Pixar shorts (I could watch For the Birds and Geri’s Game over and over again), but Presto not so much, despite the expected technical mastery. The film seemed to be afraid to actually put trust in its own delightful premise. It should have been chock-full of, for lack of better word, “spatial” gags — and maybe it was, but I found it impossible to judge through the way-too-quick editing. Simple slapstick is all that registered for me. The jokes in This Way Up may not always be the freshest but at least I could tell what the jokes were.

    Oktapodi is fun and clearly a labour of love, but feels very slight, even compared to the other two comedic CGIs.

    Lavatory-Lovestory is easily my second favourite, but I couldn’t get over a few storytelling ambiguities: Why does the heroine throw the first bouquet away in anger? Did her admirer want to be found at the end (his actions don’t quite make sense either way)? Etc.

  • Sondhi

    There can be debate on which is the best, but I think we can agree that the field is pretty slight, especially compared to last year. Gotta see if I can find some of the live-action nominees.

  • Nils

    I hope that Lavatory-Lovestory will win. Such a sweet story and I like the tradional animation style.

  • Sondhi

    I think that is the one I’m rooting for as well, It’s the best story, but it still feels like a rather slight effort for such an award. Still holding out hope for Maison Cubes, which, based off of the “The Diary of Tortov Roddle”, I think I’ll like the best.

    I’m not a huge animation-head, I leave that to Andrew and Ian, but was there anything this year that should have been nominated? What about the BAFTA noms?

  • Andrew S Allen

    I’m surprised Varmints from Studio AKA didn’t make the list. I haven’t seen the full film, but I know it’s been well-received at many festivals and was nominated for a BAFTA. Also, the 24-min length and subject matter are a perfect fit for the Oscars.

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