Be prepared for much laughter and perhaps a little crying because the folks at Pixar have uncorked their best one yet with Up, a monumental achievement where every frame bursts with supreme ingenuity. This is one of those rare movie experiences that had me marveling at everything I was seeing. It also manages to pack an emotional punch as big as any live action film I’ve seen in recent years.
This brilliant story’s unlikely hero is one Carl Fredricksen (wonderfully voiced by Edward Asner), a 78-year-old man who refuses to sell his beloved house to pesky real estate moguls. Just when it looks like the big city will swallow up his little home, Carl attaches thousands of colorful balloons to his abode and sails off for South America, where adventure awaits.
Unbeknownst to him, young and happy Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai, a terrific character creation), who was trying to get his “Assist the Elderly” badge, was hanging out on Carl’s porch and is now along for the ride. The unlikely duo encounter a talking dog named Dug and a gigantic bird they call Kevin. Kevin is an endearingly awkward and rare species being pursued by another old man in a zeppelin.
The old man in the zeppelin is Charles Muntz, a famous explorer who took off for South America with his army of dogs. When Carl was young, he idolized Charles, and it’s sort of heartbreaking when the two wind up battling each other over Kevin. Every movie like this needs a nemesis, and Muntz, with his pack of canines armed with talking collars, is a mighty good one.
It becomes apparent in the first few minutes of Up that Pixar is willing to take some big risks with their latest, as they did with last year’s WALL-E. They are not afraid to address dark topics like death and violent misdemeanors in a children’s film. In fact, calling this one a children’s film is a bit of an injustice. It’s rated PG, but it defies the “just for kids” label in a big way. Adults will probably get more out of it than the kiddies this time around, although balloon sales will probably experience a nice little spike.
While the film unabashedly addresses sorrowful themes at times, this only makes the laughs bigger and more genuine. The running gag involving talking dog collars had me laughing every second it occupied the screen. It’s not only the sound of the dogs talking but also the visuals that accompany their voices that make them so pricelessly funny. The sight of dogs flying planes in a true dogfight evokes both Snoopy from Peanuts and the final battle in Star Wars.
The visual of Carl and Russell pulling a floating house over rocks and through the jungle is a surreal doozy, like the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz or the star child in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Those films had a pioneering spirit, and Up has that same quality. It now represents the high water mark for animated cinema and stands firmly amongst cinematic history’s greatest fantastical stories.
I’ve seen both the standard and 3D versions of the film. While seeing it without 3D does nothing to dampen the great story, seeing it in 3D does heighten the adventure sequences. Carl’s final battle with Charles, complete with characters dangling from the flying house and zeppelin, is a technical marvel. I can also report that the funny short preceding the film involving an intrepid stork and a thundercloud definitely benefits from 3D.
Next up for Pixar is a return to the familiar with next year’s Toy Story 3. After seeing Ratatouille, I thought it was impossible for Pixar to do better. I felt the same way after seeing WALL-E. With Up, they have proved me wrong for a third time.