If there’s one thing you can say about Pixar, it’s that their corporate marriage to Disney hasn’t dulled the company’s independent, risk-taking spirit. On the surface, Up is the company’s least marketing-friendly release to date. The star is a curmudgeonly old man, after all. You’ll be hard pressed to move many toys of Carl Fredricksen’s glowering, hangdog visage, even if the other characters in the film are fairly adorable.
Carl (Edward Asner) is a 78-year-old man. The house he’s lived in his entire life is standing in the way of progress. Developers want to get rid of Carl, but Carl has a dream. He made a promise to his wife that one day they would explore South America. Life has a way of getting between us and our dreams, but Carl made a promise and with the help of several thousand helium balloons, he’s going to keep his promise. Unfortunately, he didn’t count on a lot of unwanted company, starting with Russell (Jordan Nagai), a meddlesome Wilderness Scout.
As it turns out, flying his house to South America is the easiest part of Carl’s journey. (That’s got to be one of the strangest sentences I’ve ever written.) Not only does he have the kid to look after, he also picks up a giant bird and a talking dog named Dug (Bob Peterson). Of course, with those complications comes other complications, in the form of villainous disgraced explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and his pack of hyperintelligent-ish dogs.
The voices are more than a match for the characters. The first time I saw Carl, I knew it had to be someone like Ed Asner providing the voice. Sure enough, he is; he hits the role out of the park because I believe this is the role he’s been aging into for the past 30 years. Seriously. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Carl, and he does a great job with it. Ditto the young Jordan Nagai, who is the first Asian-American to play an Asian-American in a Pixar film. He ads just the right amount of youthful authenticity to the character of Russell, without going overboard as kids are wont to do. Christopher Plummer is excellent as always, with a perfectly cool tone and delivery for the character of Muntz, and Bob Peterson carries the weight of dueling roles as the goofy Dug and the menacing head-dog Alpha.
Wall-E was a wonderful, if flawed film. Visually, it was superior to everything Pixar had released up until now. Not only is Up the more focused and competent picture, it’s also much more beautiful. Everything from Carl’s thousands of balloons to the South American jungles absolutely pop from the screen. The scenes with the flying house are breathtaking. It’s easy to make the unusual beautiful, but to transform a normal cityscape into something gorgeous takes a lot of real talent. Pixar definitely has that talent.
If you don’t tear up at least once during Up, well, I don’t know what to say for you. This is one of the sweetest, most touching, children’s tearjerkers since Charlotte’s Web in 1973. The opening 20 minutes of the film put a lump in my throat and director Pete Docter and screenwriter/co-director Bob Peterson skillfully managed to return that lump to my throat with regularity while sneaking in enough chuckles to keep the feature from becoming maudlin. This film is incredibly moving, yet it doesn’t revel in its emotions at the detriment to the adventure and laughs you need in a children’s film. The film moves along at an even pace, and never swings too far into the extremes of sadness or joy. There’s always a musical cue or a moment of sadness, and there’s always a belly laugh to chase it away.
Up is a wonderful, sweet, sentimental film. It has a lot of heart and gets its message across without falling into the preaching of the latter half of Wall-E. Even seeing it in 2-D (instead of 3-D, because the Internet lied to me) didn’t take away from this film’s obvious charm. It’s the least likely big-budget summer blockbuster you’ll see this year, and in some ways, it’s the culmination of everything Pixar has been working toward since Toy Story came out in 1995. This is a crowning achievement for Pixar and a wonderful, moving experience.