CAPSULE: Certainly UP is one of Pixar's best films to date. The reason is not that it has some of their best animation, though that arguably is true. But their story values are may be improving faster than their animation. UP is a story with genuine pathos on themes of loss and of unfulfilled dreams. All this mixes with an adventure story with a little bit of action. Kids will love this film, but some of the notes of this film will definitely resonate with adults. A bittersweet prolog really works to make this film a much better story. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Pixar is pushing the art of animation beyond all expectations. Early on in UP we see a boy carrying a balloon. Now in our world some balloons when inflated are opaque and some made more cheaply are translucent. Pixar would have been excused if they had taken the easy route and made the boy's balloon opaque. That would be an easier effect to create. But this is a cheap balloon and we see the background faintly through the balloon. That is just doing things the hard way just to show the audience that the visual images are better than they need to be. The animators were going to extra effort just to show their virtuosity at creating visuals. But their plotting and storytelling is more affecting than it has been in any previous major animated film that comes to mind. Their secret weapon is a prolog. The main character is Carl Fredricksen, a man probably in his late seventies. The prolog shows him as young boy enthralled by a world-famous explorer, Charles Muntz. Carl finds a girl as fascinated by adventure as Carl is. They become friends, then a couple, then husband and wife, then an old husband and wife, then she passes away and leaves him lonely. That's right, a character the viewer likes dies in the prolog. Right now I can think of only four so likeable characters killed off in previous Disney films and three are canines. It is a risk to kill off someone the viewer likes, but it gives the entire film resonance. When Carl mourns his wife, the audience does also. And the film needs this resonance since somewhere in the back-story it there it is about disappointment, loss, loneliness, and the choice between values and dreams. Not that this is a grim story, but it is a surprisingly honest and moving one.
Carl Fredricksen (voiced by the wonderful Ed Asner) is an old curmudgeon and widower who lives in the same house he lived in with his beloved wife. The two had always dreamed of the adventure of going to Venezuela and seeing Paradise Falls on a certain mystical plateau that was visited by the celebrated explorer Charles Muntz (apparently the same plateau that inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to write THE LOST WORLD). Now Carl's house is to be bulldozed to make way for some big building, and Carl will be neatly filed in a rest home. But he has another plan. He will float his house high in the sky using several hundred helium balloons. He will harness the winds and fly his house to the mystical plateau. He is flying through the solitude of the sky when there is a knock at the door. It seems he is not as alone as he thought. A boy Wilderness Explorer (think Boy Scout) named Russell (Jordan Nagai) has been taken with the house. Begrudgingly Carl takes the boy in and together they fly to the plateau. The plateau turns out to be a sort of magical place. It has giant birds like living phorusrhacidae. Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) still rules the plateau and seems very active and spry. Carl is old enough to need a cane with a stand, and Muntz must be at least twenty-five years older, but somehow he is not. Most delightful are the Muntz dogs who have been fitted with collars that allow them to talk, though they still think like dogs. But Carl and Muntz are headed for a clash of values.
Pixar has gone past the point where they made animated films that happened to be good stories. Now they are making good stories that happen to be animated. I rate UP a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
As good as the story is there are still some bad plot holes that should be noted. Perhaps the magic of the plateau is keeping Muntz from getting very old, but Carl should have at least observed that it was odd that a man who was out exploring the world when Carl was a young boy is still alive and spry on the plateau. Also a scrapbook is important to the plot, but it is not until the end of the film that Carl does something with this book that he more likely would have done years earlier.
A short animated film, "Partly Cloudy", is packaged with UP. The idea seems to be that storks get the babies they deliver from clouds. Some babies are easier to handle than others. The animation is fine, but the story is just not very interesting. "Presto", the film that came packaged with WALL-E, was considerably better.
Film Credits: http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1049413/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/up/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper