Pixar has a history of delivering movies that have a solid story to go along with their equally solid visuals. With every film the studio puts out comes an expectation—and for some people perhaps even a desire—to see them fail. They’ll have to keep on waiting. Up provides that same level of visual quality, and ups the ante with a story that’s more emotionally accessible to its adult audience. It’s an adventure story that celebrates the seemingly mundane moments in life.
Up opens with a young Carl Fredricksen as he watches his hero, Charles Muntz, in a movie theater newsreel. Muntz, a world-renowned adventurer, has been disgraced after an accusation of fabricating the skeleton of a rare South American bird. Even this can’t damper Carl’s spirit. As he runs down the street, living out imaginary adventures like those of his hero, he hears a familiar rallying cry come from an abandoned house. It’s here where he meets the free-spirited Ellie. She tells Carl of her wish to one day build a house by Paradise Falls, which also happens to be Muntz’s stomping grounds. Through a montage, we’re taken through Carl and Ellie’s life as they grow up, marry, grow old together and never quite get to their South American adventure. Ellie passes on, and 78-year-old Carl is left alone in the house they rebuilt together.
The story picks up with Carl’s tiny home standing alone amidst a massive construction site. A run-in with one of the workers forces curmudgeonly Carl into a situation where he must move into a nursing home. Faced with this bleak prospect, he decides to follow through on his and Ellie’s dream of traveling to Paradise Falls. Carl ties a tremendous number of balloons to the house and unwittingly floats off with eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell. After arriving he discovers a new journey lies ahead as he’s still some distance away from his intended destination and must find a way to move his house to Paradise Falls with a young boy in tow. To further complicate his situation, he finds that he now has to do it while traveling with a talking dog and a gigantic bird of paradise, neither of which will leave him alone.
Is there anything new to be said about Pixar’s skill in the area of CG animation? I really don’t know what else they could do to raise the bar in that area. Up was visually engaging and consistent throughout. All of the characters and inanimate objects looked and felt as if they genuinely existed within this world. Little touches like Carl’s beard stubble, the shifting colors of the rare bird of Paradise Falls and the shadows of the balloons really added to the experience.
But the strongest part of the movie is the storytelling. All of the humor hits when it should. You never once stop to question that a house is floating to South America using balloons for lift and rags as sails or that there are talking dogs. It’s all authentic within its own universe. And while Up has more than its share of moments with cute kids and cute animals doing cute things, it manages to balance that out with other scenes including one reminiscent of The Most Dangerous Game. The scene in which Carl and Russell are sitting to dinner with the villain has a palpable tension to it. The only point in the story at which I felt they might have copped out was the “Disney” death of the villain. Fine. They were in the air. It works within the story. But it’s such a common method of dispatching villains that it no longer has any impact.
Particular mention should be made of the superb visual storytelling done within the montage of Carl and Ellie’s life together. It’s very moving and never falls into the territory of feeling manipulative. It moved my husband and I to tears. More so than the rest of the film, it deals with more adult concepts and will probably resonate more so with that portion of the audience. It’s a fantastic piece of storytelling in its own right and effectively communicates everything you need to know to understand and appreciate the story from the point we’re re-introduced to an elderly Carl. It should also be noted that the sequence deftly handles the concept of the couple’s miscarriage.
The voice work was solid throughout. It’s always a pure delight to hear Ed Asner at work. It’s equally delightful when celebrity voicework isn’t a selling point of the movie. The score meshes so well with the movie that I hardly noticed it at all. I felt that might be a bit unfair to write in a review, so I purchased it and gave it a listen on its own. There’s a sweet little waltz used as the main recurring theme. I also loved the homage to 30’s music.
I very much enjoyed Up as a full movie-going experience. Great visuals. Engaging story. Solid voice work. Fitting score. I might do a rare second viewing of this movie. Up is currently playing in theaters, and while there was no release of a physical CD, the soundtrack is available as an MP3 download from amazon.com.