Cannes lifts off with 3D animation film "Up"

CANNES, France Wed May 13, 2009 7:00pm EDT

1 of 6. People walk past a giant advertising board for the animated film 'Up', directed by Pete Docter, in front of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes on the eve of the 62nd Cannes film Festival May 12, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Regis Duvignau

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CANNES, France (Reuters) - The Cannes film festival rolled out its red carpet with an old-style mix of humor and emotion on Wednesday, as the animated comedy "Up" lifted the mood at the start of cinema's biggest and glitziest gathering.

The 10th feature by Disney's Pixar studio has been hailed by critics and was warmly welcomed at its first Cannes screening, setting the festival off on a buoyant note ahead of a 12 day round of screenings, networking, press events and parties.

The 62nd edition of the festival is expected to feature fewer of the celebrity driven events that have been its hallmark as studios cut budgets in the recession but the glamour of Cannes remains a powerful magnet for the industry.

With "Up" -- the first animated feature to open the festival -- it continues a long tradition of starting with an eye-catching potential blockbuster although it also meant that there were perhaps fewer big stars than in previous years.

"We're just a bunch of animation geeks from northern California and here we are on the red carpet at Cannes," Pixar head John Lasseter said as he mounted the famous steps.

The tale of a gruff old widower and a zealous boy scout who float off to South America in a house borne aloft by a colored balloons, "Up" looks back unashamedly to the good humored and sentimental style of filmmakers like Frank Capra.

Its dazzling 3D digital effects add a striking new dimension to a classic odd couple tale but the filmmakers insisted that they had focused primarily on conveying old-fashioned emotion.

"I knew this movie was going to be very unusual but also loaded with heart," Lasseter told reporters.

LIGHTER NOTE

"Up," which is not in competition, added a lighter note at a time when early talk has focused on cancellations and cutbacks and where the main lineup was dubbed by trade paper Variety the "biggest heavyweight auteur smackdown in recent years."

Behind the smiles and flashing cameras, the mood along the palm-lined Croisette waterfront has been an uncertain one, with economic worries balanced by a feeling among festival purists that films, not parties would once again be the main focus.

"This year perhaps we can think about the cinema, not the stars and the starlets and the excessiveness of Cannes but the emphasis on the films," festival director Thierry Fremaux told Reuters Television.

The main competition has a familiar air and features several past winners of the coveted Palme d'Or award, from Quentin Tarantino to Ken Loach and New Zealand's Jane Campion.

Tarantino, back with his World War Two movie "Inglourious Basterds" with Brad Pitt, has attracted much of the early buzz.

But there are plenty of other stars including Penelope Cruz who stars in Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" or former France and Manchester United soccer star Eric Cantona who appears as himself in Loach's "Looking for Eric."

Campion brings "Bright Star" based on the romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, while Lars von Trier is presenting a horror movie called "Antichrist."

Other highlights include Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" about the rock festival and Lou Ye's "Spring Fever," made in defiance of a five-year ban from film making imposed by China for his previous movie "Summer Palace," also in Cannes.

Out of competition, Terry Gilliam has perhaps the biggest movie in Cannes. "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is the late Australian actor Heath Ledger's final screen role, which had to be completed by Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law.

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