Directed by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson. Voices by Bob Peterson, Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai, Delroy Lindo, Jerome Ranft, Elie Docter. (2009, PG, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 29, 2009
Pixar tops itself with its new animated offering Up, a movie so visually and emotionally skillful that it makes Monsters, Inc. look positively antic, Toy Story seem like mere child’s play, and WALL-E appear as sentimental fluff. Up advances the animation studio’s steady growth toward making films that appeal to general audiences, not just kids' pictures that toss in some jokes aimed at their adult chaperones but movies that provide complete satisfaction for all viewers, no matter their age. That evolution is probably best embodied in the experience of Docter, Up’s director, who worked on all three previously mentioned Pixar features, having directed Monsters, Inc., written the Toy Story films, and had a significant hand in shaping WALL-E before leaving to guide Up. (For more about Docter, see "What Comes 'Up' …, May 29.") Up’s promotional campaign, which suggests little more than a fantastical movie about a house that flies on balloon power, doesn’t help spread the sense of the film’s rich emotional currents and taut action sequences. The movie’s preamble is such a penetrating thing of beauty that it could exist on its own as a lovely short film. In it we are treated to the life story of a love affair that begins in the childhoods of Ellie (Elie Docter) and Carl Fredericksen (Asner, although voiced in his childhood by Jeremy Leary). Up begins in a movie theatre with newsreel footage (shades of Citizen Kane) of the fictional explorer Charles Muntz (Plummer), whose heralded career is sullied when his findings are questioned and he heads back to South America, never to be heard from again. Still, he is an inspiration to child explorers everywhere and is the reason Ellie and Carl first meet. Their life story is then told through a wordless montage that carries them from youth into old age: marriage, fixing up a dilapidated house, Ellie’s inability to bear children, their dreams of one day traveling to Muntz’s Paradise Falls, Carl’s career as a balloon seller, the passage of time and dreams forestalled, old age, and eventually, Ellie’s death, which leaves Carl a solitary old codger living out his years in the same house surrounded by memories of the past and a refusal to accept the changes required by the present. When he is finally forced out of his home, Carl manages to hook up his house to thousands of helium balloons and finally head off to Paradise Falls instead of the Shady Oaks Retirement Home. Accidentally along for the ride is Russell (Nagai), a Wilderness Explorer who is trying to earn his Assist the Elderly badge and whom Carl had thought he had shaken from his front porch by sending him out on a snipe hunt. The curmudgeonly widower and the fatherless, overeager young scout make an odd couple, but the pairing is thankfully sugar-free and wholly complementary, and the friends they make once in Paradise Falls – a dog named Dug (Peterson) and a rare bird named Kevin – are screen delights. Once there (fortunately, little time is spent on the mechanics of getting the house to South America), the group also discovers Muntz, whose early dreams have been overtaken by the vengefulness of an old man. Although Up’s action sequences are well-constructed and suspenseful, there is really nothing that makes the film necessary to see in its 3-D format. However, in terms of its narrative structure and lessons learned, I suspect we will be comparing Up with classics like The Wizard of Oz for years to come.