CANNES, France (Reuters) - The Cannes film festival marks a first on Wednesday when it opens with "Up," an animation comedy that may help lift some of the recessionary gloom overshadowing cinema's biggest and glitziest gathering.
Directed by Pete Docter and produced by Disney's Pixar studios, "Up" has already been declared a triumph in advance reviews and was described by trade paper "The Hollywood Reporter" as "arguably the funniest Pixar effort ever."
But the tale of a retired balloon salesman and a zealous boy scout will need all the charm it can muster to outweigh a mood of anxiety and caution on the palm-lined Croisette waterfront this year.
As ever the big hotels are full and plastered with advertisements for forthcoming blockbusters, party tents still line the beach and there are plenty of yachts in the bay.
But many of the boats are unchartered, Vanity Fair's exclusive party has been canceled and there has already been talk of potential deals falling through and spending cutbacks.
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 help the thousands of accredited journalists to focus on 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 -- kicks off 12 days of screenings, interviews, red carpets and revelry in the glamorous Riviera resort.
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.