by Steve Habrat
Did you ever think that animated feature films could move you as much as Pixar’s animated offerings do? One of the most emotional in their body of work has to be 2009’s crowd-pleaser Up, a film that refuses to gloss over real world obstacles that we will all have to face one day. It truly is hard to believe that these films are aimed at children when they are much more adult orientated in their themes. Up has to be one of Pixar’s heaviest films but it also has to be one of the most lively outside of the Toy Story series. Like staring into a neon rainbow, Up is a gorgeous film that doesn’t rely on its meticulous visuals to keep it aloft. No, Up boasts a splendid story that is carefully and delicately told. The script, penned by Peter Docter, Bob Peterson, and Thomas McCarthy, packs thrilling, high-rise action and jokes that fly at the audience at breakneck speeds. Yet the best part of Up is the unflinching look at the pain and heartbreak that life can throw at us and how we can still make our dreams come true, even if we think it is too late.
Up begins in the 1920’s with the young Carl Fredricksen, a quiet boy who hides behind giant eyeglasses and an old pilot’s cap, seeing a theater newsreel that features famous explorer Charles Muntz (Voiced by Christopher Plummer) setting out to find a rare species of bird. Carl dashes out into the sunlight, eager to mimic his hero and while exploring an old house, he stumbles across a chatty redheaded girl named Ellie. The two adventurers strike up a friendship and they soon fall in love with each other. They get married, move in to their dream home, and begin saving for a move to Paradise Falls in South America, the same place their hero Muntz explored and ultimately never returned from. As responsibility and heartbreak prevent them from their dream move, the two try to forget about their dreams and focus on their lives in America. Seventy years sneak by and Ellie passes on, leaving Carl (Voiced by Ed Asner) a bitter and cranky old man, fighting to stay out of a retirement home. He is also tangled in a nasty battle to keep his home from being taken by a construction company that wishes to demolish it to make room for a skyscraper. After a nasty confrontation that ends in Carl injuring one of construction workers, he ties millions of helium filled balloons to his roof and takes off into the sky, setting a course for Paradise Falls. Once aloft, Carl quickly discovers he has an unwanted guest tagging along.
Once Up lands in Paradise Falls and allows us to get to know the energetic and pudgy Boy Scout Russell (Voiced by Jordan Nagai), the film takes on a lighter tone that the kiddies will go gonzo over. We get to meet a rare squawking bird that Russell calls Kevin and a pack of talking dogs that are led by the dopey Dug (Voiced by Bob Peterson). I loved the scenes where Carl has to grit his teeth and tolerate the ball of energy that is Russell. I also enjoyed seeing Russell win Carl over with his constant pestering. It was great to see the bitter Carl finally emerge from his shell and allow another person to grow close to him in the wake of Ellie’s passing. Early on, we see that Ellie suffers a miscarriage, which severely wounds the hearts of the optimistic couple. It truly is heartwarming to see him watching over Russell in a fatherly like manner and admitting that he just wants Russell to be safe. It will also get you when Carl reluctantly begins protecting man’s best friend Dug and the rare bird Kevin, especially when Kevin gives Carl backtalk. You’ll be on the floor in laughter.
Up has to be one of the most bipolar films that I have ever seen. One second, it will have you gasping for air in between all the knee-slapping jokes and the next second, it will have you fighting back tears. The silent opening montage that shows us the progression of Carl and Ellie’s marriage is sweet, fuzzy, and piercing. There is more emotion in this opening ten minutes with computer-generated characters than there are in most live action films with flesh and blood actors. Take note, Hollywood. The last act of the film embraces rollicking thrills set in the clouds. Our motley crew of heroes is pitted against the now evil Charles Muntz and his army of talking dogs. The one flaw that does sort of bother me in Up is the lack of development in Muntz, who is just suddenly evil. We are given a thin explanation that sheds light on his bitterness, but I wanted a bit more out of him. It doesn’t help that he enters the film late in the game. You will, however, get a kick out of the elderly showdown between Muntz and Carl, both who suffer loud cracks in their backs as one swings a sword he can barely lift and the other swings a walker.
At times resembling an old sketch that has come to high definition life, Up’s spellbinding visuals are complimented by Michael Giacchino‘s delicate sore, which adds an extra push to all the emotion. The best moments of the score come in the quieter moments, when it is just little twinkles of piano keys. Up’s ultimate message of encouragement and reassurance are what really made me fall for the film. I firmly stand behind its reassurance that our dreams can come true, no matter how old or how young we are. I also loved Carl and Russell discovering that they need each other to nurse their wounded hearts. Russell, it turns out, is largely ignored by his biological father and told by his stepmother that he annoys his father too much. Each time I watch Up, it never gets any easier to hear Russell mutter that confession and Carl’s reaction always gets me. Up has to rank up there as one of my favorite Pixar films, one that has stuck with me the longest and is always a treat to revisit. It may be a tearjerker reminder of how unpredictable life can be but it always helps when you have somebody by your side to share the smaller moments with. Up is a dream come true.
Up is available on Blu-ray and DVD.