It’s nice to know that despite an incredible string of critically and commercially successful films; Pixar is still willing to take risks. Their
latest film, “Up,” stars a crotchety old man and features a storyline that is, at times, downright depressing.
Writer and co-director Bob Petersen and director Pete Doctor clearly have no interest in pandering to the young crowd with the tired and
juvenile antics we see so often from other animated fare. “Up” challenges its younger viewers with the notion that dreams don’t always
come true and that life isn’t fair.
“Up” is far and away the most emotional of Pixar’s films. There is an extended montage very early on that whisks us through the lives of
Carl Fredrickson and his wife Ellie. This sequence is beautifully directed and we see the happiness and heartbreak that is life. This
sequence packs more dramatic punch than most movies ever achieve, and it comes in the first ten minutes of the film.
In fact, it could be argued that a shortcoming of the film is that it can never truly top this wondrous introduction. But even though “Up”
becomes a bit more of a typical animated adventure later on, it’s done as well as it has ever been done before, and the film never loses its
heart along the way.
Carl and Ellie’s dream was to live on Paradise Falls, following in the footsteps of their hero, explorer Charles Muntz. With his wife gone and
about to lose his home, Carl takes to the sky, lifting his house via thousands of helium balloons. But Carl isn’t alone, as he finds the young
wilderness explorer Russell has stowed away aboard his house-blimp thing.
It’s here that “Up” lightens up a bit with some great comic moments between Carl and Russell. Voiced by Ed Asner and Jordan Nagai
respectively, both turn in wonderful performances.
They soon find themselves at Paradise Falls, and inadvertently at odds with Carl’s old idol Charles Muntz.
It’s about here that we realize how perfectly paced and edited “Up” is. It features just the right balance of fun action sequences, humor,
and drama and never for a moment does the film drag, let alone slow.
Perhaps Charles Muntz could have been a more developed and interesting villain, but the film is so much fun and has so much heart that it
doesn’t even matter.
The film also succeeds technically with gorgeous animation and art direction, and the masterful sound design and mixing we’ve come to
expect from Pixar films.
Also enhancing every moment of action and drama is Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score.
“Up” is filmmaking at its finest. Whether it’s Pixar’s best film or not doesn’t matter one bit. This is truly great entertainment, a film that
doesn’t just succeed, but is masterful at just about everything it attempts to do.
* * * *
(out of four)
Directed by: Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson
Written by: Bob Peterson and Pete Doctor
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai,
Bob Peterson, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Released: May 29, 2009; 96 Minutes