by | May 29th, 2009 | 8:00AM | Filed under: Theatrical Reviews

UpPoster (With Up's nationwide release today, we at redblog are re-running our review of the film from the Cannes Film Festival)

Over the years and its previous nine films, the Pixar name became synonymous with quality — and, more subtly, synonymous with a certain kind of story, one where a duo of heroes works alongside a larger group to save a community as fragile as it is special. Pixar broke out of that mold a little with The Incredibles, to be sure, but that template seems to lie at the heart of almost every one of their other films — Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Cars and more. And while an unlikely friendship is onstage in Up, Pixar’s latest effort, it also feels both fresher and deeper than many of their other films. There’s nothing here with the playful crazy spirit of the Toy Story movies, nor does it create a dizzying universe like Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc., but at the same time, Up has got the most heart of any Pixar movie; it may be the first Pixar film about actual people, and for all of its computer-generated visions and 3D inventions it’s always about human emotion and human experience.

Up tells the story of Carl Fredericksen (voiced by Ed Asner), who we meet as a boy; his love for explorer Carl Muntz results in his meeting another Muntz fan, Ellie — and then, in a five-minute silent sequence backed by Michael Giacchino’s beautiful score, we watch as Carl and Ellie fall in love, get married, live life, grow old, move on. They always dreamed of going to South America, but life got in the way, and after Ellie passes, Carl’s got a house full of memories and a plan. Retrofitting his house with balloons, Carl takes to the air … with a stowaway, Russell (Jordan Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer hoping to earn his last Wilderness Explorer badge for public service who came by asking if he could help Carl across the street, or across the yard; now, Russell’s going to help Carl across the world. …

… If Carl lets him; Carl’s a bit thorny, and insistent on getting to the falls he and Ellie always dreamed of visiting. But he and Russell soon meet a 13-foot-tall exotic bird, Kevin (a great comedic creation) as well as Dug, an earnest dog with a collar that turns his thoughts, such as they are, into words. (Dug will have his articulate, enthusiastic monologues broken up by more dog-like asides — “Squirrel!” It’s a joke that never gets old, and yet Dug‘s more than just the joke.) Then Carl and Russell meet Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), who’s been down in South America for years trying to reclaim his reputation by capturing the gigantic bird that’s eluded him for decades. Carl isn't going where he wants to; maybe he's going where he needs to. …

Co-directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.) and Bob Peterson (who also voiced Dug), Up has adventure, excitement and comedy, but it also has a warmly surreal look and feel — when Carl’s house takes to the air, it’s a beautiful and haunting series of images. But the movie never gets too enamored of its own loveliness; the scenes move and flow with enough snap to keep things exciting, and enough grace so that things matter. Yes, we know that Carl and Russell are going to wind up friends; they’re ultimately not that unlike the buddy duos of Pixar’s other movies. Unlike Pixar’s other buddy duos of monsters, toys and talking cars, though, the things Carl does to hurt Russell are real, and the things he does to atone are, too.

Up has a nice message — hang on to your dreams, but not so tightly you lose your grip on everything else that matters; deal with your sorrows and cherish the joys that relieve them; always be ready to make a new friend. But it also has great visuals and true excitement, real action and hilarious comedy. When was the last time an action film built up to hand-to-hand combat between two AARP members on top of a dirigible high above the South American jungle? And the 3D version of the film is pretty much perfectly intermixed with the story; there’s nothing showy or gratuitous in the 3D effects, and they’re never shoved at you to shore up a weak moment in the script.

Up isn’t that radical a break from the past for Pixar — I’d love to see the company branch out into trying films that aren’t necessarily family-friendly adventure-comedies, if only because I can’t help but think that’d stretch the company’s animation and animation as a whole — but it’s easily their best film since The Incredibles, and even better than the justly-praised WALL*E or Ratatouille. Up begins with Carl’s journey to travel into the sky, and the great script and the wonderful animation give us that adventure, and Up would be perfectly fine if it just showed us Carl trying to leave the world behind; what makes Up soar head and shoulders above its peers is how it ultimately shows us Carl trying to leave the world for the better.

2 Responses to “Up

  1. Michelle
    Posted on June 9, 2009 at 9:49 pm

    Boring! My son was getting antsy half through the movie. I wish I would have waited to rent it instead of paying an arm and a leg for a movie that is meant for geriatrics. I might have laughed 2 times during the movie. Not for kids. It is for people with old or very mature spirits.

  2. erin
    Posted on June 10, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    I thought it was absolutely wonderful, and I really want to see it again for the details. The thoughts of the dog pack were absolutely hysterical. I went with my brother, parents, and nephews, and we were all laughing raucously–that says good things about the levels of humor.
    I loved pretty much everything about this film, and will highly recommend it to everyone! And I just saw Wall-E again…this is right up there with that great movie, and it might surpass it.