An animated comedy adventure helped lift the mood at the start of the Cannes film festival as cinema's biggest and glitziest gathering prepared to roll out the red carpet on Wednesday.
"Up", directed by Pete Docter and produced by Disney's Pixar studios, has already been hailed as a triumph in advance reviews and was warmly applauded at its opening press screening, where journalists donned special goggles to see its 3D effects.
"A captivating odd-couple adventure that becomes funnier and more exciting as it flies along," as trade paper Variety described it, the tale of a retired balloon salesman and a zealous boy scout who fly to South America is not in the main competition.
But it adds the touch of Hollywood magic that is a big part of the Cannes mystique and may help outweigh a mood of anxiety and caution on the palm-lined Croisette waterfront this year.
As the town prepares for the traditional red carpet ceremony that will kick off the main part of the festival later on Wednesday, the early talk has been mainly of budget cutbacks and a recession that has hit both studios and the press.
Festival director Thierry Fremaux says he believes that this year there will be fewer of the celebrity-driven peripheral events that make Cannes the destination of choice for the world's top stars and movie moguls.
The more restrained mood, however, may return the focus to the festival's core business.
"Around Cannes, perhaps it was just too much sometimes, too much partying. 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," Fremaux told Reuters Television.
Wednesday's opening ceremony -- the first to feature an animated film -- starts 12 days of screenings, interviews, red carpets and revelry in the glamorous Riviera resort.
LEDGER'S FINAL ROLE
Brad Pitt is expected in Cannes with Quentin Tarantino's World War Two drama "Inglourious Basterds", one of 20 films showing in the main competition and vying for the coveted Palme d'Or for best picture when Cannes winds up on May 24.
The competition also includes by Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" starring Penelope Cruz, Ken Loach's "Looking for Eric" featuring former French soccer star Eric Cantona and Lars von Trier's horror "Antichrist".
Jane Campion, who won the Palme d'Or with "The Piano" in 1993, brings "Bright Star" based on the romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne.
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.
Hundreds more movies are shown outside the main competition, many of them on the market which runs throughout the festival and reinforces Cannes' importance in the world of cinema.
The deal making will go on, as will the parties, but market players expect the mood to be more subdued than in recent years.